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Double Trouble: On Mental Health and Caring

I have been given the opportunity to contribute a blog post to the Involvement blog at Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. For Carers Week I shared with them my own blog about caring for my dad who has Alzheimer’s. As is the way with the supportive carers and mental health communities, the Involvement Team kindly guest posted one of my own blog posts and offered me the chance to write another one for them – so here it is. I am also posting this on my own website.

I thought I’d share a little of my own journey as someone who has lived with mental health problems all their life but has recently experienced the double impact of becoming a carer.

I have a mood disorder. Variously, over 54 years, I have been given the labels ‘bipolar’, ‘schizoid’ and ‘recurrent depressive disorder’. I don’t like labels. Occasionally they can be useful – for instance if you need support from medical practitioners when dealing with the benefits system – but mostly they stick us in boxes and make it harder to climb out.

The big turning point for me, in dealing with my mental health, was when I accepted that this is who I am, that there was no simple biological explanation or miracle cure. This is my natural way of being and I simply had to tailor my lifestyle accordingly.

I stopped trying to hold down a full-time job and went part-time. I stopped my battle with the side effects of drugs and worked with a psychotherapist to manage my mental health without medication. It was a long process and my mental health still impacted heavily on my life – I lost several jobs because employers were unsympathetic or discriminatory and relationships were a minefield – but for many years I managed a reasonable balance and pretty happy life.

Then came caring. First my uncle, then my mum with the early stages of vascular dementia, then, after she died, my dad. I have lovely sisters who help as much as they can, but they both live abroad. I worked part-time and had some degree of flexibility, but the older members of my family all lived 200 miles away. I couldn’t take a half-day off work to take my dad to the hospital, I had to take three or four. Eventually, at the beginning of this year, I gave up the struggle and resigned my job – which was, ironically, leading the wonderful Compass project that supports carers of people with dementia in Nottinghamshire.

Caring, for me, is long distance. One of my blog posts Long Distance Caring – How to Stay the Course addresses the particular problems of this situation (find it at: https://annedegruchy.co.uk/2015/05/18/long-distance-caring-how-to-stay-the-course/). Yes, there is a care agency going in to help with my dad’s day-to-day needs, but we have to manage the package, as well as trouble-shooting multiple problems and health needs. There is my dad’s social life and lifts to co-ordinate, his house and dog to maintain, and his finances to deal with under power of attorney. There are crises and visits at short notice. Dad is determined to stay in his own home, and who can blame him? However structure and routine are important to me, and all this change and coming-and-going has been challenging and distressing. It has not been good for my mental health.

I had a breakdown at the end of last year, and another not long after stopping employed work to focus on caring, but at last I feel the tide is beginning to turn. In an attempt to make sense and something positive out of all of this I have registered as self-employed and returned to my writing. I hope to publish my novels. My blog is part of the process of putting my work out there, and I hope people might like to have a look at it! Share the link to my website and you’ll make one carer and weary mental health battler very happy…

© Anne de Gruchy

IF YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE INVOLVEMENT TEAM…

https://involvementvolunteeringexperience.wordpress.com

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust provides integrated healthcare services, including mental health, intellectual disability and community health services. The Involvement Team work within the Trust to ensure that service users and carers are involved in service planning and scrutiny of their services. They also provide volunteering opportunities and collect and analyse service user and carer feedback.

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Analysis Blues (or: How to be a True Creative!)

If you are following my blog you’ve probably gathered by now that I love to analyse things.

It flows though my writing in the way that I explore ideas and psychological change, and also my everyday life. I am definitely too much of a thinker, as one friend highlighted when she queried the words ‘bit of’ in my description of myself on my Facebook page.

The worse thing about all these ideas whizzing round my brain is their tendency to come to me at three in the morning. They insist on being heard and keeping me awake until I get the notepad out of my bedside cabinet and write them down. As I glance at the clock now, it reads 03:46!

Ideas are one thing, but analyzing stuff is another kettle of fish and a bit of a risky business with rather slippery results. It can be dangerous to prioritise head space above the heart or emotions, and I tend to see the analytical part of me as negative and unhealthy – the bit that makes me critical, or nit-picky, or too much of a perfectionist. My psychotherapist would challenge me on this of course, pointing out that for every negative aspect of a trait there is a counter-balancing positive if you just look for it.

This train of thought ties in with a Twitter link I followed the other day, which ended up at an article by Cody C Delistraty called: The Depressing Downside of Creative Genius. This was on an intriguing website called Human Parts which ‘explores the patchwork of the human condition through experimental and traditional personal writing’.

The article was looking, as many people have, at the link between creative genius and mental health. It cited some work done by Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria that looked at the involvement of the precuneus, the area of the brain that exhibits the highest levels of activity during times of rest and which has been linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval. In other words, the bit that indicates if we ruminate about things a lot, including our own experiences. His work found a relationship between the ability to come up with an idea and the inability to suppress the precuneus while thinking. Fink found that this inability to suppress the precuneus is seen most often in two groups of people: creatives and psychosis patients.

Apparently, this part of the brain only lights up at restful times for most people, but for writers and creative people it seems to be constantly activated resulting in difficulty in focusing on one thing and some schizophrenic and borderline bipolar tendencies. This is absolutely me to a tee and could certainly explain not only why I have struggled with a mood disorder all my life, but the pesky waking up at all hours with a stream of ideas. I definitely need an ‘off’ switch built in!

I did get rather excited, though. If nothing else, and always looking for the positives, I took it as evidence that I am a real writer after all!

MAD MOMENT…

Doing my ‘being a viewfinder’ thing on a walk with my son, who is a professional photographer. He was taking lovely arty pictures of the scenery, buildings and people, and I was holding up my hand and making my fingers into a rectangle to check out the composition options. All I can say is: Embarrassing Mums Rule!

MARVEL MOMENT…

The amazing buzz at the Jam Café birthday celebration and open mic evening.

© Anne de Gruchy