This Blog Makes Sense (SYNESTHESIA)

Synesthesia is an ordinary experience for me that causes no harm. So until now, I haven’t paid it much attention. I can’t imagine things being different. I can’t imagine what it is like to listen to a sound and not see it’s colour, and feel it.

I was inspired to write this blog by a 6 year old girl ❤️ I hope it’s helpful to her and her mummy, and I hope it makes sense…

Every person with sensory processing differences have different experiences. We seek and avoid different senses because we have lower (than normal) registration in some senses, and, higher (than normal) registration in others.

Additionally, we have the experience that our brains are not just ‘turned up,’ or ‘turned down,’ but “wired differently.” For example, my brain’s ‘wires’ connect to parts of my brain that give me different experiences to most people. Noise connects to pain, light connects to heat, etc. My internal body senses don’t appear to connect to my brain at all.

Recently, I was told that, (if we imagine the traditional five senses) most people tend to experience them as separate entities. Noise makes sound, but, doesn’t have a taste or a pain. Colour is something that can be seen, but, not heard. This clean segregation of the world is what gives most people their sense of reality. To them, this reality feels fixed and permanent, and, they have the impression that anybody standing in their shoes will experience the world in exactly the same way.

But our perception of the world is filtered through the individuality of our brain. And, because some brains, (for instance autistic brains) differ in subtle ways, some people experience the world as a different place.

Synesthesia is ‘pairing, or co-occurring of the senses.’ Apparently, there are over 128 types of Synethesia, effecting 4.4% of the population. Many of these people are autistic, (and there’s science about why, but it won’t all fit in this blog!) I mainly have phoneme-colour, and sound-colour Synethesia. I’ve been this way forever, but, it was only ‘named’ for the first time in 2018, (about a year after my autism diagnosis) when a professional was trying to access how I communicate feelings. (This will be better explained later.) It was picked up again by another professional, in 2021.

Many people *associate different colours/feelings with things. My mum associates the colour blue with sadness, “feeling blue.” My friend associates January with the colour red, because of the birthstone Garnet. He associates the number 8 with ‘green,’ because the fridge magnet is green. The word ‘steak,’ makes his mouth water, and, when he hears the name of his grandmother, he feels sad because she died. These types of deliberate associations are not synesthesia, but part of the human ability to pair senses in preferred ways.

I’m going to try and explain my experience of Synesthesia. People that know me well, know that I have a very intricate love for words. My A levels were in English Language, English Literature, Spanish and French. My degree was English and Creative Writing. My hobby is music/theatre, and, I am particularly passionate about names of people and song lyrics. Words give me joy, and, my emotional relationship with words is stronger than my emotional relationship with people. When I hear a word, I see it in (a very specific shade of) colour, involuntarily; a sentence becomes a picture. Hearing a song is when my Synethesia is most mobile, vivid and layered.

When I was in hospital, I had very reduced verbal communication, but, I did a lot of painting. I painted pictures and the staff would say, “that’s nice, what is it?” I would say “it’s a song!” And then their faces would do peculiar things. Like they’d move their head to the side, their eyebrows rise a bit, their eyes looked like they were struggling with a problem, but, they were smiling about it. I was never happy with my paintings because, whilst I could paint the shapes of the sounds accurately, I could rarely mix the specific colour I was experiencing in my mind.

Many ‘synesthetes’ experience a colour for every letter sound. But, I only seem to experience colour when I hear vowel sounds in a word. Particularly, long vowel sounds. For example, all the words that contain the sound ‘a’ (including ay, a-e, ai, ey, eigh) are always yellows. (Side note: the sound of a cello is also yellow, and shares all the characteristics of honey.) All the words that contain the long sound ‘e’ or ‘i’ are blueish shades, (including ee, e-e, y, ea, ei, ie, y, igh, i-e). All the words that contain the long vowel sound ‘o’ (including o-e, oe, oa, ow,) are greens. And all the words that contain the long vowel sound ‘u’ (including u-e, ue, ew, oo) are purples.

Words with short vowel sounds like a-ant, e-egg, i-ill, o-olive, u-up, have always been reddish-pink colours. I’ve learned these feel ‘uneasy,’ but I have lots of empathy for these words. The emotion words ‘happy,’ ‘sad,’ ‘angry,’ ‘anxious,’ and ‘bad,’ all have the hard ‘a’ sound, but, mean contrasting things. (Both ‘angry’ and ‘happy,’ have blue edges.) They are also all words I do not like to say out loud.

When I hear the Louis Armstrong lyric, I see trees are green,’ I see moving, bluish shapes on a blue background, and the image is gentle. When I experience this blueness, my mood is directly effected, i.e, blue is carefree and good.

This links to my autism assessment, in which I was diagnosed as alexithymic, “no words for feelings.” At the time, I accepted this as accurate, as, I have always struggled to identify and label feelings inside myself, and, on other people’s faces. However, in therapy, (and through the development of my sassy lioness,) I’ve learned that I DO have words for feelings. They’re just not the words most people expect. One reason I mask feelings is that, I am self-aware enough to observe that other people have another language for feelings, that I don’t innately have.

For example, if someone says, “how are you?” They might be expecting, “fine thank you,” or “I’m sad,” or “I feel happy.” My instinctual response would be, “Louis Armstrong, 1967, I see trees are green, blue,” and, I could then draw the image that those sounds and colours give to me.

The first person to realise my expression of feelings was my therapist. She encouraged my synesthetic experiences, and, used them to connect me with really complicated vocabulary like, ‘I feel shame,’ ‘anxiety,’ ‘guilt,’ etc.

It is very hard to ‘bend my mind’ around the fact that not everyone experiences this visual pairing of sound, colour and emotion. Which means it must be hard for others to ‘bend their mind’ around the fact that I do. It’s also hard for me to imagine other peoples’ synesthesia. For example, some people can taste words in their mouth, or, see colours when they taste certain foods, but this does not happen to me.

As my therapist (who, is not a neuroscientist) said, hearing the word “maybe,” and experiencing a lemon-yellow ‘pond’ (with blue diamond-shapes that focus, fly and fade), is as real to me as someone hearing an emotional song and getting goosebumps on their skin. Or hearing the word ‘hospital’ and having ‘butterflies.’ (The word “maybe” is also female, yes, she has a gender.)

How does this help me? I think that this helps me to remember long lists, sequences, scripts and lyrics, because, they create pictures in my mind that never change, i.e., the colours and the movement in the word ‘family,’ are exactly the same as when I heard this word as a child.

When I first learned that this wasn’t how people usually experience sounds, it gave me a variety of worries.

When I have completed choreography projects for dancers, I have never felt I deserved the recognition. People say “how did you create that piece of dance,” and, my instinct is to say “the music just tells me.” The intricate sounds in the music give me the colours and shapes, and, I just have to figure out how to recreate that with the human body.

So, I recently agreed to be part of someone’s university research on synesthesia. I have no idea what they’re going to get me to do, but, hopefully it will be tested and explored, and I will actually get some science about why.

There’s so much more to write, maybe another time. I hope this makes sense.

Next blogs:

Non-vocal Sounds and Synesthesia

People That Claim Synesthesia (and Synethesia testing)

Other Types of Synesthesia (this one is going to take some SERIOUS research.

Thinking about Thinking

Thoughts are not facts. Intrusive thoughts are like bad habits that need to be given up. Like smoking, once you give up the habit, your lungs becomes healthier and you can breathe. Once you start challenging negative thoughts, your brain becomes healthier and you can breathe.

Is this easy? Nooooo

I was going to call this blog ‘Making Sense of Intrusive Thoughts.’ The thing is, intrusive thoughts do not make sense, because they are intruders, and they are not real. They are like burglars coming into your house: they are not welcome; they do not belong there. I’m learning to change my thinking, because my thoughts hurt me and make me ill. Do I want to be hurt and ill? Nope.

My nurse told me that my thoughts (about myself and others) are not facts. It’s taken me a very long time to understand the difference between a thought and a fact, (so, she still has to remind me a lot!) but, I am changing, and I can feel myself changing, and I have chosen to change.

There is this pattern I go through multiple times a day. The pattern is: thought, emotion, more thoughts, behaviour, repeat. My thought creates an emotion, which leads to worst thoughts, and, a subsequent action/ behaviour, but I am choosing to break this cycle.

Intrusive thoughts come in different shapes and sizes, and, like buses, they can take you to places you don’t want to go. My therapist taught me to say, “do I want to get on that bus?” Nope! “Do I want to go to that place?” Nope! At first I was like, buses? Huh? So she showed me a video and she said, “if you’re at a bus stop and a bus comes along going to Southampton, and you want to go to Winchester, are you going to get on that bus?” Nope!

During lockdown I was bullied by recurring thoughts, I fell down many thought spirals. Three of them were:

My friends don’t like me – my friends are plotting against me – my friends are going to report me to the police – I am going to be arrested – I need to hand myself in.

I am bad – my badness is contagious – I am the coronavirus – I have killed thousands of people – I have to punish myself.

I am a terrible teacher – I have a negative impact on the children I teach – I must quit my job before I get sacked – I am a failure – I need to punish myself.

If you tell yourself something often enough, you believe it, even if there is no factual evidence for it. The emphasis is on the fact that YOU are telling YOURSELF and this is a massive waste of your time. Like, finding a burglar in your house and saying, “hey, why don’t you move in?” Is that wise? Nope!

Next come the emotions – are these thoughts hurting my feelings? Yes, literally hurting me, impacting my daily function. These thoughts are bullies that lie. They want to trap you in their cages so you live a life restricted. The physical effects on the body are intense because the thoughts have infiltrated your “wise” mind, making you emotional and reactive. They make you think, “I cannot cope with the feelings this thought is giving me, I just want it to end.”

More thoughts pile in. “How can I escape these feelings?” Having autism means it’s tricky to identify the emotion, know why it’s there, and treat it compassionately, but, with time it’s possible to learn, and use safe emotion coping skills before you act on it.

Behaviour – “what can I physically do to stop feeling this way.” A struggling mind may not come to a safe, self-caring solution. Even though you know that if someone else were being bullied, you would treat them with care and sensitivity. Instead, it might lead you down punishing pathways. Withdrawal, impulsive decisions, self-harm, and then, into a whole separate spiral of guilt, shame, regret, repeat.

All this pain and suffering and bad decisions for a thought that isn’t even a fact? Rather than stress over kicking the intruder out, maybe don’t let him in in the first place.

Reassurance – is something kind people do, to help you ease a thought in the moment. But this doesn’t help long-term. Thoughts are recurring, persistent, and, they creep back; and, what if that kind, reassuring person isn’t there when the thought creeps back in?

Challenging intrusive thoughts comes from within: it is a skill that takes time, lots of practise and, in some cases, therapy. Therapy is a life-changing, life-saving process. In therapy, I named my ‘thought bullies.’ I drew them, personified them, to separate them from myself. (Cozbi and Eugenia.) I now see them as unkind “intruders,” that I do not need/want in my house/life. I don’t swear much, but, when they show up in my head with bad thoughts, I literally STOP, and tell them to f* off, out loud!

Now, I have alternative voices in my head, that challenge the bad, unhelpful ones. They switch the narrative. I have a fierce lioness that does not tolerate bullies, and, I have a wise policewoman (aka my nurse) that looks for ‘evidence’ to back up the bad thoughts… but, she can never find any cold hard evidence for intrusive thoughts.

Maybe you’re thinking, “but the lioness and the policewoman aren’t real either!” Well, that’s right. But focussing on positive things is far more productive than focussing on negatives? If you hate peas but you like broccoli, you’ll probably choose the broccoli?

Cozbi: no-one likes you

Lioness: some people may not like you and what? That’s a normal thing. Not everyone likes the Queen.

Eugenia: you’re bad at your job (ps. you’re overweight)

Policewoman: evidence shows there were moments of success today! Let’s list them! (Ps: your BMI is normal for your height and weight, so, take that piece of info and eat it whole!)

Cozbi: you’re an attention seeker

Lioness: is this true? No! Is this a fact? No! Is this intended? No! Is it ok for people to think this? Sure! It’s a SEP! Someone Else’s Problem!

Eugenia: the TV is spying on you

Policewoman: really? Well, it’s wasting it’s time because you’re sitting here doing nothing remotely interesting.

Am I a hypocrite? A bit, yes. Can I always respond to irrationality with logic? Nope! I have bipolar and I am well at the moment, so these things are easier said than done. But it is important to practise these skills, to strengthen the mindset-muscle, for when the mind does deep-dive into the dark planet.

If not now, when?

Psych Ward (Part 2)

This blog is ‘Part 2’ of my experience of going into hospital for a bipolar (etc, etc) relapse during lockdown. ‘Part 1’ was about my arrival at the hospital, and, the fear. This blog is about growth, hope and confidence. It’s taken a long time for me to get the confidence to share another blog, because, well, will people think bad things about me?

But, I’ve been listening to lots of Matt Haig interviews on YouTube lately. (Matt Haig has written many books about his mental health, and, has the confidence to share a lot on Twitter.) In one interview, Matt Haig was asked why he talks about mental health so much? His response was, that he spent so many years not talking about it: he wouldn’t, and, he couldn’t. This is the same as me.

For Matt Haig, like for me, writing is not just therapeutic and releasing – it has also connected him with a community of others who can relate to him. His writing has helped people understand themselves, and their loved ones, and, he has turned his biggest difficulties into silver linings of hope for others.

Whenever I share writing, I always ask myself two questions. These questions are, ‘is this helpful?’ And, ‘is this hopeful?’ For this reason, there’s heaps of details I need to leave out of this blog – as, I’m sure you will understand. This is for my own privacy and dignity, and the privacy and dignity of other patients.

The hospital was noisy: filled with very poorly people doing very poorly things; behaving in very poorly (sometimes scary) ways. But, quickly, I learned that every single one of them were beautiful people, with beautiful souls. That’s the thing about a lot of people with mental health problems – often, they are stuffed full of empathy, and, quick to want to help.

The most significant thing that happened to me in hospital, was, meeting my occupational therapist (OT). I can’t remember my first time meeting her because my first few days at the hospital are blurry. But, it was like my OT had a brain full of golden threads, that she would pull out and give to me. (She gave me my ‘lioness’ – I’ll explain this next time.)

Soon, my OT had me leaving my room, which was mega. She helped me be able to use the shower (I was paranoid to shower at my flat, because, I thought I’d be arrested in the shower… I know, mental), and, the toilets; go to the drugs hatch morning, noon and night for my medication, and, even attend some activities, like art: (I made a huge picture of a parrot by finger painting) and baking, (one day I made red velvet cakes.)

To feel clean and showered was so, transforming.

Somehow, my OT knew so much about autism and sensory therapy. She knew to break everything down into manageable tasks, so, I was left with confidence, and not distress. (Apart from the canteen, ain’t no-one was getting me in there!)

Every time I would accomplish something, however small, my OT would look at me and say, “happiness?” And I would say, “yes!” She made me a little card that said, “I need help,” because she knew I couldn’t approach nurses and ask.

Because of my OT, I started to be able to mix with the other patients in the communal lounge. This was scary at first, because, at this time, all of the patients were older than me accept one, so, I wasn’t sure if I would be accepted. Also, I’d been isolated by lockdown for so long, my, (already awkward) social skills had gotten very rusty. Quickly, I learned that I did not have to worry about acceptance at this hospital.

I was accepted when I could talk, and, when I couldn’t: when I was calm, and when I was distressed; when I was ill and when I was well. Being in hospital meant that my mental health was being seen, in real time, by people for the first time. People saw me at my worst, which, is something I hide from the community because, what follows is such an ugly shade of shame. But, the nurses would say things like: “that wasn’t you, that was your illness.” They didn’t judge my “bad” behaviour; rather, they were compassionate.

I began to be able to separate myself from my (deeply engrained, perceived) “badness,” which, was a revelation. And, I had a lot of special chats with the chaplains at the hospital about ‘goodness’ and ‘badness.’

In the communal lounge, I did a lot of colourings, and, I made friends (with an autistic patient, who had the same name as my cat,) who taught me how to make Loom band bracelets. (I sat and made hundreds of Loom band bracelets.) But, when I wasn’t sociable, my 15 minute Obs nurse would likely find me in the sensory room, where there were enormous beanbags I could lie on, under my weighted blanket.

This is one of the Loom band bracelets I made.

I also started to try and start conversations with patients by saying: “do you want to see some pictures of my cat?” And, “do you want to watch a film with me?” (The TV is behind a locked, protected case and, the TV remotes were kept by the nurses because we needed supervision with the batteries.) I made friends with this amazing person, ❤️, who, I still see. And we used to take our blankets into the lounge and watch Bridget Jones’ Diary.

The police used to bring new patients to the ward, (I was totally scared of the police coming.) But, I approached this patient and asked if she wanted to watch a film. She told me to “f**k off,” (and, she was whispering to some sort of hateful demon in her head.) So I said, “do you want to play cards?” She said “sure!” I really liked her: she was exceptionally dirty when she was bought in, and extremely tall, and, she had two nurses on 24 hour Obs with her. I cared about her heartbeat, all buried underneath all of this. My mind was saying “who is loving this person?” All people know that, those who seem hardest to love, need the most love, don’t they.

(I’m starting to think this blog is going to need a ‘Part 3.’)

I’ll just finish this blog by talking about my mum and dad. Mum and dad visited me quite regularly when I was in hospital, but, they were never allowed inside the building because of the Corona virus. Instead, I would go into the ‘family room,’ and, they would stand outside in the cold and talk to me through the window. It was quite emotional. The window was covered in a sort of metal sheet with little holes in it, so, I could see and hear them, but, I couldn’t get out.

My mum and dad would tell me how Saffie was doing. They bought me my weighted blanket, some slippers, and, a ‘Frozen’ themed game of Top Trumps, that I played with the nurses. The nurses had to go outside to collect things from mum and dad, because, I wasn’t allowed. It must have been pretty hard for mum and dad, but, I tried to always be reassuring.

Once, after my mum and dad had left, I returned to the communal lounge with my nurse to do some colourings. (This next part is funny,)… briefly, my nurse had to leave the room, so (naturally) I spied on her notes. I found my name and the time, and her note about me said: “appears to be asleep!” This made me laugh so much, as, (I know I was unwell, but) I was pretty sure that I was awake and not asleep!

Ah well, that’s enough writing for now. Hope everyone is enjoying their Easter weekend ❤️

Psych Ward (Part 1)

Never do I think, “I’m going to write a blog today.” These blogs seem to write themselves, whenever they feel like being written. I don’t chase words, the words come to me, and, when I read them back I think, “gosh, I’m not really sure where that came from!” It’s a process that happens naturally, and therapeutically.

I’m going to write a couple of blogs about going to the psych ward.

It’s been a year since I was admitted onto the psychiatric ward for the first time, so I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. I was admitted on Valentine’s Day, which is a pretty memorable date. It’s not necessary or helpful to others to describe the reasons why I was admitted: my mind was on another planet, and I was ill. I’d been having daily ‘shared care’ visits from the nurses, and nightly visits from the Acute team for, (I don’t know how long,) until, one afternoon, a nurse came and said it was time for me to be admitted. (I think you get admitted as a last resort, for your safety and the safety of others, but, they generally try to keep you in the community if possible.)

The nurse, Stuart, gave me an hour to pack some pyjamas, etc. and to call my parents to have Saffie, my cat, collected. Then, a different nurse, Emma, came to take me to the hospital. On the way to the ward, I was terrified: I didn’t know where we were going, or, how long I would have to stay. It was also my first time being away from Saffie. Emma told me that I was going to Melbury Lodge, so, I was able to text my parents and let them know.

It was dark and raining when we got to the hospital. Two nurses let Emma and me in the doors, and then the doors were locked behind us. One of the nurses took my bag away to be searched, and the other nurse led Emma and I down some corridors to my room. (I’ll tell you about my room later.)

All I know is that I was terrified. Many autistic people, like myself, find change, unfamiliarity and uncertainty extremely difficult, and, I had no idea what was happening. I sat on the bed, and, there were three nurses in the room. One of the nurses was asking me lots of questions, like, “do you know why you’re here?” And, “do you intend to cause yourself or others harm while you’re here?” But, I was too overwhelmed to speak. It was like I had become mute with fear, and, this lasted a couple of days.

The nurses told me that I was going to be on “fifteen minute observations,” which meant that, every fifteen minutes, a nurse would check on me and write an observation. This would happen throughout the day and the night. The door to my room had blinds in it, that could be opened from the outside. They explained to me that, during the night, the nurses would either shine a torch through the blind, or, they would open the door and come in to check on me. Often, I would wake up to nurses pulling my blankets down, because, I had a habit of sleeping with my blankets covering my face, which, I wasn’t allowed to do.

The nurses told me that I would be allocated a certain nurse everyday, and that I would have 1:1 time with that nurse if I wanted too. They said my allocated nurse’s name would be written on the ‘patient board’ outside the nurses’ office. They then gave me a Covid test, and said I would need to isolate in my room until the test result came back negative. (The nurses all wore masks, but the patients didn’t.) I was given a special key card for my door, (which, I would keep in my sock, so I didn’t lose it) and, another nurse bought my belongings back to me, minus a few confiscated items.

I don’t recall much more about that first night (apart from the scary alarms); I think they’d given me sedating medication, which, I was glad for, because, I was so sad to be sleeping without Saffie for the first time.

When my Covid result finally came back negative, the nurses told me I was free to go anywhere in the female part of the ward, but, I was afraid to do this for ages. I was afraid of the shower, the toilets, the canteen, the drugs hatch and the communal lounge, so, at first, I stayed in bed. (That was before I met my amazing OT, Mareli, who I’ll tell you about in a different blog.)

My room was small and I liked to keep the lights off. All the furniture was attached to the wall and floor, so, it couldn’t be moved. There was a sink with no taps, instead, a button to press to make the water come out. The door less wardrobe had shelves, but, you couldn’t hang clothes up, and, the door to the room had a circular handle that you twist to open or lock. Basically, there were no ligature points in the rooms. There was also a window, which, it was impossible to get out of. But I sometimes used to sit by it and watch the women and babies from the mother and baby unit, walk around the garden with their nurses.

I don’t really know how the alarms worked on the ward, I just know that they would go off all the time. I think the nurses, and all the ward staff, had an alarm attached to themselves, that they could press when a patient was in trouble or if things were kicking-off on the ward. It must have also given the staff the location of the incident, because, when the alarm went off, all the staff on the ward would run to that location. I only set the alarm off three times during my time there, and, one of those times was an accident! Stuart, the acute nurse, had come to visit me in my room, and, he leaned on the top of the door as he spoke to me, which made the alarm go off. That was actually pretty funny.

The next day I think was my first ‘ward round.’ I had to go to a big room, with a big table. The ward doctor would lead it, I think, but there were other people there too, typing notes and asking questions, etc. It was very overwhelming, and I was bad at answering the questions and sharing information. After my first ‘ward round,’ I was excused from going to them anymore. Instead, the meeting would happen without me, and the doctor would visit me 1:1 in my room.

During one of the visits from the doctor, Dr Gemmeker, she told me that she had bought my book and read it in one sitting. (I had written and published a book called Too Much World: How I Survive as an Autistic Girl.) She was so kind about my book, and, I was so shocked because I had never mentioned my book to anyone. I still don’t actually know how she’d come to know about it. I never imagined that precisely one year after my book launch I would find myself in hospital.

In my next blog, I might write about how I started to ‘find my feet’ on the ward. About the things I did there, the things that happened, and the friends I made.

Writing about Writing

Sharing writing about mental health creates an ALMIGHTY conflict inside me.

I fear it; but, it is also important to me. I’m going to explore this ‘inner conflict’ by writing. Sometimes, I feel the fear, and write it anyway, and I do this for the people who feel the fear and bottle it up. Often I bury the writing in notes and diaries and boxes and bins – never to be seen by anybody.

Why is there so much fear?

Well, first of all, it’s about what other people will think. There is so much fear about what other people will think if you start writing about your mental health: fear of social stigma. Social stigma is about the negative, discriminatory attitudes people can have about mental illness, that, they don’t seem to have about physical illness. You can have ten positive interactions on a blog, but you’re still worried about ‘the others.’ ‘Cozbi’ pops up here, just to tell you that you’re an “attention seeker.” (I’ll come back to the word ‘attention’ later on.) But writing about autism (not a mental health condition) is so much easier than writing about bipolar.

There is also self-stigma, and internalised shame that people feel about their own illness. Shame is a bitch, because, it sidles-up alongside your illness and tells you to hide it. Hiding mental illness makes people more ill than they need to be. The more you hide mental illness, the ‘louder’ it gets, until, suddenly, it bursts out of you: ‘it’ controls you rather than you controlling ‘it.’ It wasn’t until I broke through the ‘shame barrier,’ by writing, that I began to be able to work on managing the actual illness. This was an enormous breakthrough, because, I have been ashamed of my mental health since about the age of 8. It’s also why I encourage other people to write.

As I write, I learn. I start to be able to simplify and solve complex things and I think: this might be relatable to others.

Attention-seeking vs connection-seeking: many people with mental health problems, including me, are terrified of being seen as an “attention seeker,” if they share. This is very sad (also lonely, dangerous.) People lose their lives because they are afraid of seeking attention for their mental illness. “Attention” is seen as a bad word: ignore them, they’re just attention seeking. Reframing this, and calling it “connection seeking,” seems easier for people to empathise with.

I share my writing because I am ‘connection-seeking.’ I seek to connect with other people like me, with friends who have family members like me, with people who might develop a mental health condition in the future (no-one is immune.) The more you ‘connect’ the more ‘normal’ your mental health illness seems to become. By writing, I finally ‘told’ people that I have Autism and Bipolar. Not because I “wanted attention,” or, because I feel defined by these diagnoses, but, because they provide an ‘explanation.’

Having an explanation is important to me and the people around me: suddenly, I was not a ‘bad’ person, (which is what I’ve spent my life believing.) I would rather people know that I have autism and bipolar, than make up their own wrong assumptions about my personality and behaviour changes. Like, ‘odd,’ rude, distracted, awkward, weak, anti-social, unreliable, emotional etc.

Writing about my diagnoses suddenly made me part of a community: I’m not alone or ‘bad,’ I’m part of the autistic community, I’m part of the bipolar community. I’m part of a community of people that also have mental health care nurses and support workers and psychiatrists in their lives. People are starting to tell me about their diagnoses; they’re saying “me too” for the first time. They are telling me to “keep writing” and that my blogs are helping them understand their loved ones better. This brings me joy! This, – since mental health stole my beloved job as a teacher – is my new purpose to hold on to, until I can get my job back. But there is still a real ‘inner conflict’ that I can’t shake.

I spoke to my chaplain, Melissa, about the horrid paranoia I get when I share a mental health blog. She was reassuring. She helped me realise my intention for writing: “I am writing FOR people, who do not have a voice.” When I am writing, it feels like my purpose is to share information that I have learned in order to help others. (I am bereaved by suicide.) It’s part of being a teacher. When I learn a new coping mechanism – or a skill that is healing – it feels important to share it so that my healing is not wasted on just myself.

When I am sharing writing – I am not a mental health patient – I am a teacher again.

Am I an ‘open’ person? No. This might surprise you. Whilst I find it therapeutic to write – and (sometimes) share the writing to help others – there are only about two people in the world that I could ever ‘talk’ to about mental health. I actually find it very difficult to ‘say’ the words ‘autism’ and ‘bipolar’ out loud.

Most of the writing I share, I could never ‘talk’ about face-to-face; moreover, most of the writing I do, doesn’t get shared. This is because my purpose is to help people, so anything (negative, shameful, draining, triggering) gets edited out. I also don’t write about trauma. For everything that is written, there are hundreds of ‘unwritten’ things. I think: is this helpful and necessary, or is this unhelpful and personal.

During an ‘episode’ I am not ‘open,’ I am the opposite; I withdraw from family, from writing, and even the mental health team. (They are often encouraging me to “be more open.”) It’s usually months afterwards that I can process and write about mental health because each blog needs to contain genuine hope.

Autism and honesty: whilst I don’t believe I am as ‘open,’ as I have led people to believe in my writing, I know that I am honest. I think autism makes me share ‘no-nonsense’ details about mental health as facts to break down stigmas. Usually the things I write, don’t have an awful lot of emotions attached to them: this is what happened, this is how it is.

Also, autism gets overwhelmed by the ‘attention’ a blog gets – even the really positive comments can feel overwhelming. It’s not uncommon for me to share a blog on Facebook, and then deactivate my account for a few days.

There is a second ‘inner conflict’ within me, that is: autism vs bipolar. Many people with autism, including myself, develop “special interests” in autism, psychology, mental health, human behaviour etc. Autism wants me to collect information about these things and share it with whoever will read it. Bipolar wants me to hide away in a room and not tell anyone anything.

But hiding away in a room – and not telling anyone anything – is not going to help me truly connect with people. It’s not going to help me help others, and it certainly isn’t going to help me get my job back.

Bipolar is like Planets (Part One)

At the weekend I had a depressive episode. It lasted two and a half days and it came unexpectedly. I’m grateful it didn’t last longer because my previous episode lasted seven months.

It was kind of my fault. My routine was ‘off,’ my support worker left to go to a brand new job (I’ll write about this in a separate blog) and, I had forgotten to order my medication for the week. This meant I didn’t sleep. (It’s frightening how missed medication and a few hours less sleep can ‘alter’ the mind of a bipolar person so quickly.)

Anyway, let’s not focus on the details of that episode. I got my medication on Sunday at 4am from an NHS 111 doctor and I woke up on Monday – a totally different person (!) – after a 14 hour sleep! “Oh my gosh – I’m on a different planet – today, I’m back on Earth!” This led me to think that bipolar is like planets.

On planet Earth, I am a ‘“normal” autistic person.’ It’s where my personality is. It’s where my ‘inner lioness’ is. (I’ll tell you about my lioness in another blog.) You still have ‘highs’ and depressing ‘lows’ on Earth – as everyone does – but my nurse has taught me skills to manage those times and I’m getting good at it.

It’s hard living ‘on Earth’ with autism, because, autism is an ‘alternate’ way of being. Planet Earth is not autistic; and, neither are most of the people who live on planet Earth.

My friend Pat (who works on the radio) recently interviewed another autistic author who explained autism perfectly. He explained that, as an autist, it can be extremely difficult to try to act like everyone else: to network socially; to deal with different pressures, senses and anxiety. This is because you don’t have some of the innate abilities most ‘Earthlings’ have – so, you have to use cognitive load to be able to match it. You spend every second of the day analysing, checking and rechecking to see if you’re behaving in the ‘right’ way. Like carrying a huge load on top of just struggling to exist day-to-day, that other people don’t have to carry. But, Earth is still the closest I can get to being ‘well.’

This could be the most accurate experience of a conversation I’ve ever read!

On Earth, with some support, I can recognise my moods and regulate them wisely, now, but – at the weekend – I went to The Dark Planet.

The Dark Planet is an unbearable place to be: it’s where Cozbi lives; it’s where she is most powerful. (You may know about Cozbi from my previous blogs.) On The Dark planet, your brain gets twisted by the atmosphere: your thoughts are warped, abnormal, destructive, and reality is skewed. Suddenly, your friends are scheming enemies: you see, hear and believe things that you don’t see, hear and believe on Earth. There is no evidence for the things you’re believing, but, there’s no logic either. And, the worst part: ‘Cozbi’ steals your hope, so you don’t even have anything to hold on to.

Some people don’t survive The Dark Planet because it is tormenting and dangerous; and, you can’t imagine ever getting back to planet Earth. People, (like the police or the mental health team) sometimes intervene and put you in the hospital for your own safety and the safety of others.

On Earth I can think: ‘what can I do to make this depression better?’ But, on The Dark Planet, all I can think is ‘how can I make this stop?’ When I arrived on The Dark Planet on Friday night, I realised that I had left all my coping skills behind on Earth. They were locked in a box in my brain that was inaccessible. I realised that I can manage depression on Earth, but I still have a way to go, to learn how to manage this mind-bending bipolar depression on The Dark Planet. I know it can be done.

I’d ordered wine (mind-numbing), which I’m not really allowed, and I picked it up with my left hand, my medication in my right. I thought, “this is a test.” Cozbi wants me to drink the wine to make me more vulnerable to impulsive behaviour, but, my nurse would tell me to take the medication early and sleep.

Well, I’m proud to tell you, that, for the very first time, I won a test on The Dark Planet. I heard Cozbi loud in my head, but, I ‘acted opposite’ with all of my lioness strength and took the medication. It’s the first time my lioness has turned up on The Dark Planet, and, I think it shows that I am getting better at making decisions and understanding and managing bipolar!

(Cozbi 0- Claire 1)

My message here is, do not give up.

Ps: there’s another planet in my mind too, other than planet Earth and The Dark Planet. It’s called The Fast Planet – and, I’ll take you there next time.

The Willpower Muscle

Autism makes me simplify complicated things. It also makes me simplify easy things: go back a bit; work up to the goal carefully. Everything in the world can be simplified.

This happens in teaching all the time. If a child in your class can’t count to 10 yet, you don’t make them count to 10 over-and-over until they get it. You go back a few steps, and you fill in the gaps until they’ve got enough knowledge, practise (and confidence) to count to 10.

It’s the same with mental health.

I’m going to focus in on one of the symptoms of (bipolar) depression: that is, ‘lacking energy and motivation.’ This seems misunderstood, not given enough understanding. You tell yourself you’re “lazy,” “just get on with it,” but, this symptom is not laziness.

‘Lacking energy’ is so much harder than how it sounds.

Repeat – this is not ‘laziness’ – that is a bad word. ‘Laziness’ is judgement (from yourself or others.) It is a ‘Cozbi’ thought. Lack of energy and motivation is a debilitating symptom in depression. When depression takes your energy and motivation, you need a lot of willpower to combat it, and willpower is like a muscle.

Mental illnesses that encompass depression, weaken the ‘willpower muscle’ significantly. You become de-skilled at the most basic daily activities and self-care: like getting out of bed; having a shower; drinking water; exercise; going for a walk; texting back; taking medication; preparing food for yourself, etc. You know that these things will make you feel better, but depression doesn’t want you to be better. It wants to exhaust you mentally: mental exhaustion – don’t underestimate it. Instead, depression motivates you to do things that make you feel worse, or that give you a brief ‘sticking plaster’ from the mental pain, like drugs, alcohol, comfort eating etc. All these things come with their own cycle of difficulties.

Because activities (like washing yourself, exercising, eating and drinking, etc.) will make your depression better, people repeatedly tell you to do them. They tell you to do them, without realising quite how de-skilled and demotivated depression has made you. Without realising how weak your ‘willpower muscle’ has become.

You disconnect from people completely when they say “go out for a walk,” or “have a shower.” You think, “they’re not on my level, they don’t understand,” and, you withdraw from them because depression has made these simple tasks feel impossible. Along comes shame, and the dreaded word ‘should.’ I ‘should’ be able to do this – I am useless, unhelpable.

The people giving the advice may think – “I’ve given my advice, they’re choosing not to take it: they’re not listening to sense; they’re not trying to get better; they’re draining my energy; you can’t help someone who won’t help themselves; we’re having the same conversation over and over again; I’ll give up.”

What you need is for someone to say: “I’m hearing you tell me that you can’t do this right now – so let’s go back a few steps – let’s break it right down.” It’s not about what you’re physically able to do, or what you’ve been able to do in the past. It’s what you are mentally able to do now, because depression has you in its grasp, and it’s grasp is tight.

This is actually one of my favourite pictures.

Remembering when I’ve been unwell, I couldn’t leave the house. Lockdown was happening, and I was unable to work because of all of my symptoms, including lack of energy and motivation, fear. (Add in autistic executive dysfunction – probably another blog!) Not even managing to take the rubbish out to the bin for months; yet, I was told to “go for a walk.”

One day my nurse started to break it right down for me. Going for a short walk – to the lamppost and back – became my future goal. When you’re working toward any goal, you take it step-by-step, gradually building back the strength in your ‘willpower muscle.’

My nurse told me to “start by sitting on my doorstep, once a day for a week, and drinking a cup of tea.” (I had already worked on getting out of bed.) That was my one task for the day, and, I started to accomplish it. I was praised for it. One day, I walked over to Saffie Cat, (who was sitting by a bush five steps from my door,) stroked her, and walked back inside.

Then my nurse gave me a choice: either to walk once around my block of flats; or, walk to my car (to see if the battery was still working, having not driven for so long.) She said she would come over and do these things with me, but, my ‘willpower muscle’ was strengthening, and I wanted to do them by myself. (The car battery was totally dead.)

On Christmas Day, one nurse came to see me wearing her Christmas jumper, and we walked all around the neighbourhood without anxiety, far beyond the lamppost which had been my goal. Just as Boris Johnson told us we were allowed out for walks but had to stay in our local area – I had begun to research walks in the New Forest!

1% beats 0%

You have to break things right down, to be able to achieve the goal, like you do in teaching. My mental health nurse, Louise, is my teacher, that’s how I see it. And I’m eager to please her, but we need to be working at the same ‘level’ so that my progress is realistic. It turns out, that, she is a very good teacher, because I can accomplish things now that I could not have done last year. But you have to put the work in by yourself too, to strengthen your ‘willpower muscle.’

Let’s get out of bed, put on your slippers, then take off your slippers, and get back into bed. Rebuild your confidence from scratch. Better yet – let’s do it together – let’s introduce praise for it.

When you do make it outside, (do exercise, personal hygiene etc.) you realise “gosh, they’re right!” Fresh air on you face takes you out of your head. Exercise gives you goals and is one of the very best things you could do to help your mental health. (I’ll write about exercise in another blog.) But sometimes there is a process to getting there.

People don’t know when they might be hit by depression; they don’t know when their friend might be, or their parents, children, friends, colleagues. They don’t know how ‘likely’ it is, at some point. What’s scary is that people aren’t ready for it. They’re not ready for how transformative it can be: the changes in behaviour, daily functioning skills.

I’m thinking that this is my motivation to write. I’m a teacher, learning new skills in the realms of mental illness from my nurse, my own teacher. Teachers naturally want to teach others – they want to make hard things easier for others to do and understand – and, like in a class of children, everyone is working at a different pace.

Why I’m Not Alone In Isolation.

This is pretty hard to explain.

I’m going to tell you about my ‘thought bully,’ ‘Cozbi;’ but, first, I’m going to try and explain why she’s here and where she came from. ‘Cozbi’ knows that I am happy in my own company: autism makes me a natural self-isolator; but, I’m not alone when ‘Cozbi’ is here.

This blog comes with a ‘content warning ⚠️’ for people who might be vulnerable to mention of specific intrusive thoughts/ mention of the word ‘suicidal.’

Autism ‘holds hands’ with a condition called Alexithymia, which translates as “no words for feelings.” This is troublesome in a bipolar brain, because bipolar is a disorder that gives you extreme feelings.

Communicating feelings to my mental health team is hard because of alexithymia and communication differences. For example, I would struggle to communicate, “I am anxious because of intrusive thoughts.” This is problematic because, how can they help me if they don’t know what’s going on? (Together, we have now learned alternative ways to communicate; I’ll tell you about this in a separate blog.)

It doesn’t mean I don’t have emotions, I just don’t know all their names.

Emotion is strong in me – but I don’t know how to name it – or identify why it is there. I don’t know how to be precise about naming a feeling, because I cannot see it. I don’t know how to link the emotion to the reactions it gives my body, (racing heart, knotted tummy) because of sensory differences, so, I also struggle to regulate it in a safe way. Therapy taught me that most of my unmanageable emotions were coming from bad thoughts and ‘persecutory delusions.’

My therapist, Abbie, told me to draw my internal “bully,” (Cozbi), and use writing and drawing to understand her ‘bad behaviour’ in me. Visualising strong, negative thoughts as the ‘bully’ they are, helped me. Over time – and with a lot of practise – it has made difficult thoughts less ‘factual,’ and the subsequent unnamed emotions/behaviour, less dysregulated. (You can see a picture of ‘Cozbi’ in my previous blog.)

(I am finding myself thinking [*this*] which is probably making me feel [*this*] but there is no evidence for [*this*] and I can do [*this*] to try to regulate it.)

I wrote the following about ‘Cozbi’ during lockdown, when I was just starting to learn how to notice my thoughts – and, name the emotions attached to the thoughts – with Abbie.

January 20th 2021: So, this is about ‘Cozbi’ and she is powerful. The time has come for me to expose ‘her,’ because this will make ‘her’ less powerful. You can’t see ‘Cozbi,’ you can only hear her incessantly. The problem is that she never says anything nice and she NEVER stops talking.

‘Cozbi’ started in lockdown by trying to isolate me from my friends on text/social media:…

I post something on Facebook… “I can hear all your friends’ eyes rolling at the sight of your name on their screen.”

A friend messages me, asking how I am…. “they’re asking so that they can share your response and laugh at it in a ‘group chat’ that you’re not in.”

My nurse, Louise, tells me, time and time again, that I have “no evidence” for these thoughts. She is right – but, ‘Cozbi’ skews reality, and I am no longer responding to ‘logic.’ I deactivate my Facebook account and stop contacting my friends and family, because, ‘Cozbi’ has made me believe that I “infect them, like the coronavirus.”

I’m alone with ‘Cozbi’ now: living alone and unable to communicate with friends and family because of paranoid thoughts about them. I’m even paranoid about the mental health team, and I ring them to cancel my appointments everyday, but they still come.

Bullies like ‘Cozbi’ are clever and they know that, to hurt you, they have to play on your vulnerabilities. ‘Cozbi’ is so good at it: she even makes me see slugs in my food; hear rats in my mattress; see smoke coming out of the wardrobes, and believe that my food is trying to trick me. I am seeing and hearing things like this constantly, and my psychiatrist is calling them ‘pseudo-hallucinations,’ but, I can’t un-see or un-hear them.

This morning ‘Cozbi’ gave me the thought: “you’re watching the TV, but, what if the TV is watching you?” So now I can’t be distracted by my favourite TV shows. Instead, my brain starts showing me “videos” of violence towards others, and violence towards me.

How do you make it stop?

By the time I was admitted to the hospital in February 2021 – I was convinced that, in the outside world – people were plotting against me. I moved my bed into the lounge so that I could be “ready.” Every second was spent watching the front door, waiting for the police to come and arrest me for a crime I didn’t know I’d committed. The mental health team stopped me from going to the police station, to hand myself in. They also refused to call the police for me, to “get the arrest over and done with.”

“Cozbi” told me that the police would come for me when I was in the bathroom – so I was afraid to go in there. The cars in the carpark beyond my bedroom window had been ‘planted’ there by the police, to spy on me. And ‘Cozbi’ wasn’t letting me tell my mental health nurse everything because -“she is in on it too.”

When I look back I can see that ‘Cozbi’ (my thought bully) was trying to kill me, and she did a good job. I did become exhausted, I did become erratic – and actively suicidal – and I was no longer considered safe in the community. (Maybe I’ll write about my admission to the ward in my next blog.)

This is my favourite quote from Aristotle.

Since then, I’ve learned so much from my nurse, Louise, and my support worker, Ellie. I’ve learned emotion coping skills; I’m starting to know my triggers and patterns. I’m ready now, for when ‘Cozbi’ comes back, and tries to do this to me again, (which she will, – she is relentless.) But, she won’t win again because she is just a pitiful bully – and I am developing skills to fight against her. Recently I saw a quote that said: “Stop blaming the clown for acting like a clown, just stop going to the circus.”

I’m not going to the circus anymore.

I’m sharing ‘Cozbi’ with you because I’m learning to try and kick her out of my house and head. I was told that, if other people know about ‘her’ – even if they can’t understand ‘her’ – she gets weaker. When you start to see the ‘thought bully’ as being pathetic, you begin to heal. But I also need you to beware, because I don’t want her finding her way into your house and head. Things are challenging enough right now, without ‘Cozbi’ getting in too. Stay in and stay safe, -don’t let the coronavirus in – and, (if I manage to kick her out) don’t let ‘Cozbi’ in either.

My Bipolar Journey: by Brittany.

This blog entry has been written by my friend, Brittany. But I have published it for her as she doesn’t have WordPress. We enjoy sharing our writing and perspectives on bipolar disorder. She is a poet, and writes the most beautiful, healing poems everyday; but this is her first blog about bipolar ❤️

My journey to bipolar disorder, looks different than most, perhaps everyone who has been diagnosed can say the same.

I am here to tell you I AM NOT GIVING UP ON THE FIGHT AND I ENCOURAGE YOU NOT TO EITHER!

Brittany and her best friend, Kaleah Reign ❤️

You are strong enough for this. I had a hard time accepting it, the word bipolar even triggered severe Anger and intense thoughts.

I could accept borderline personality disorder. I could accept anxiety, ptsd etc. You may wonder why I could accept those dignoses and I couldn’t accept bipolar?

Let me have a chance to tell you my story, in hopes you would see the strength, even through the struggle. The hope even through the pain. The faith, even through the uncertainty. The victory, through the battle.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Let’s be honest, bipolar tells us a bunch of thing’s that we aren’t, along with other co-occuring dignoses. I spent a year believing I wasn’t bipolar, and I was going to prove to everybody why I wasn’t, prove to the world that my mental breakdown was from losing my first dog, Capella Dee, which wasn’t a lie, but there was more to the story.

I have a FIGHT mentality, I will put hard work in to be better, I will be healed, I will show others they are wrong, I know I am right – so I thought.

I healed, but not in the way I expected, not in the way I told everybody that I would. I healed from the loss of my dog, Capella Dee. I healed from cutting word’s that came from other’s that I trusted, but I did not heal from the mental disordered systems that I had been experiencing – so I thought. Lots of contradictions, but it will make sense shortly.

I CHOOSE a lot of things despite other’s saying I COULDN’T DO IT – one of those thing’s were I choose to treat bipolar without medicine (I do not recommend anyone going off medication or choosing my path, especially without a team supporting them.)

Being without medicine is hard work, but I was ready despite the advisory and disapproval from other’s. I set out on a journey. A denial journey of bipolar disorder, but one that has turned out to be beautiful, inspiring and of strength, but I couldn’t do it without God every step of the way.

To be continued.

This is Kaleah Reign – my current therapy pet ❤️

An Introduction to Bipolar in an Autistic Brain.

I’m still learning to understand how Bipolar Affective Disorder manifests in me, it’s hard. I think it’s hard to learn about bipolar in a neurotypical brain – but my brain is autistic. How bipolar manifests in an autistic brain, is not something that’s written about.

So, I’d better start writing about it.

You can’t begin to ‘live with’ something, and be successful, if you don’t know how it behaves in you.

When I was younger, I used to think bipolar was an illness of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, and that ‘high’ meant ‘happy’ and ‘low’ meant ‘sad.’ I used to think people with bipolar disorder would switch from ‘high’ to ‘low’ very quickly, over the space of a day. But unless you’re ‘rapid-cycling,’ this is all wrong.

This is an introduction to my bipolar, or, what I know about it so far.

On February 14th, 2021, I was admitted into Melbury Lodge psychiatric ward after a depressive episode, lasting many months. I’d like to write about the ward – but I’ll do that in a different blog.

Bipolar depression ‘altered’ my mind so much that I was not living in reality. Living by myself, during the pandemic, with an ‘altered’ mind, was tough, because, there was no-one here to tell me that my mind was ‘altered.’

Bipolar depression: – is not really ‘sadness’ – it’s like being tormented by your brain. You might be tearful, but it’s (not?) because you’re sad. Rather, it’s because you’re scared. My therapist, Abbie, encouraged me to name and draw my ‘tormentor,’ to try and separate ‘her badness’ from myself. (She is my illness, she is not me.)

So I visualised a ‘Medusa-like’ character called ‘Cozbi.’ The name ‘Cozbi’ means “slithering around.” I named my bipolar depression, ‘Cozbi,’ because there were snakes in my head, telling and showing me bad things, lies, wanting me to do bad things, and I’ll tell you about these things in another blog.

This is ‘Cozbi’ she is powerful. And she needs to be exposed.

Being in lockdown with ‘Cozbi’ made living difficult. Dangerously, autism makes me respond well to direction, and I began to ‘action’ the things that ‘Cozbi’ was directing me to do. There was no alternate ‘voice’ telling me to eat, shower, sleep or fight. You withdraw from family and friends on social media, it’s impossible to work and communicate. It’s impossible to concentrate on TV programmes because ‘Cozbi’ (aka bipolar depression) is so loud… – suddenly, nothing exists but ‘Cozbi.’

My mental health nurse, Louise, organised ‘shared care’ to visit me at home everyday – and the acute mental team visited me every night – until, they made the decision to send me (and ‘Cozbi’) to the hospital.

Bipolar mania/ hypomania: – is not really ‘happiness’ – more, it’s the belief that you can do absolutely anything, and sustain it. It starts undetected, i.e, you present as a ‘normal’ person who is motivated.

But with bipolar (mania) disorder, higher motivation can be a trigger warning sign. When your (abnormal) thoughts are racing, you can sometimes accomplish the most creative projects. You can teach the most inventive lessons, achieve the most amazing things, have the best ideas. It’s addictive, empowering and you never want it to end. All the while you’re not eating, or drinking, or sleeping. You are massively driven, euphoric, robotic – and you can’t stop talking, fast talking. It is hard to distinguish the difference between ‘autistic detail and hyper-focus,’ and hypomania. I think autism makes hypomania more intricate.

Being manic, or hypomanic, is complex because you can feel very manic with low mood too.

But the higher you go – the harder you fall – and you never see the ‘crash’ coming.

No-one talks about how your thoughts can race with bipolar depression too.

Energetic depression is a real danger – because, you’re not laying in bed, wallowing. You are proactively depressed, agitated, proactively suicidal and very impulsive. You are not scared of anything when you’re “high”: of strangers, of overspending, of being hyper-sexual, of travelling to unknown places spontaneously, of harming yourself.

I *think, (whilst hypomanic/depressed – ‘mixed,’) I once told my colleagues that I was “handing in my notice” as a teacher, to “sell painted flower pots” – … but, thankfully, it wasn’t accepted.

The worst thing you can do – in a depressed or manic episode – is to make a decision. To hand in your notice, to meet up with a stranger, to buy three new golf sets (even though you’ve never played golf, ever), to make any decisions about your life.

How do you learn what your brain is going to do next, and how it will impact others?

Medication: is a battle with bipolar disorder. I’ve tried many medications – including Lithium – which gave me bad side-effects in my eyes. I had to have a blood test at the hospital every Saturday morning with Lithium, to check my liver, which was unmanageable in depression.

When you’re manic you feel great, cured – you think you don’t need the medication.

When you’re depressed you don’t deserve medication, or your autistic executive dysfunction makes you forget about taking it, or ‘Cozbi’ is telling you that your medication is “poisoning and controlling you.”

When you’re “high,” you know that the anti-psychotic will sedate you, massively. It will slow you down and make you ‘foggy,’ when all you want is to sing and dance, write and draw and work, all night.

When you’re well (neither manic nor depressed) – you can’t relate to your manic self – or your depressed self – so, you convince yourself that it didn’t really happen. You are probably also feeling (guilty/paranoid?) for the way your thoughts made you behave during the episode. You feel you don’t need to be medicated anymore – and you’re self-conscious because the medication has made you gain so much weight.

So many times I have said to my psychiatrist, “I don’t have bipolar disorder,” “I need to be discharged,” “I was just born bad (autistic.)”

I think a trait of having bipolar disorder, is, thinking that you don’t have bipolar disorder – which makes it hard to manage and medicate.

When you’re in an “episode,” you can’t see it yourself. You are ‘altered.’ It’s the people around you who are noticing changes in your behaviour, not you. Maybe, at first, you are messaging people more/less, posting more/less on social media, taking on more/less at work.. that’s just the beginning.

I think it’s important for friends and family to be able to say, – “you’re not yourself, [this behaviour] is not like you, I think you should contact your (doctor/psychiatrist/mental health team)” – because, medication can be adapted according to your presentation, and, medication works to keep you safe and ‘level’ before things escalate.

Some people with bipolar choose not to take medication at all, – they try to manage it in other ways. But I am not able to manage my bipolar without my tablets (yet). I take an anti-depressant, (Escitalopram) an anti-psychotic, (Quetiapine) an anti-anxiety (Diazepam) and a sleeping med (Zopiclone); and if I miss just one dose, I start to spiral one way or another.

Talking about medication is hard because there’s stigma. It’s hard to admit you need medication to function.

This is what my mental care team remind me of when I say, I “haven’t got bipolar.” They say, “so why does the medication help, so much, then?”

Writing helps people process mental health problems because you can see it with your own eyes, on paper, and you start to learn (and take control over) how it behaves in you – your triggers and patterns. Sharing the writing can help too: it can help to expose tormentors like ‘Cozbi’ so that she has less power; it can help you to finally be understood, and find others, like you.

I feel that people should live their lives by this quote, because things aren’t as bad out loud as they are in your head.

This is the beginning of me trying to process bipolar disorder in autism; thank you for reading.