Friday, 20 September 2019

Regrets, I’ve had a few but then again too few to mention...... ( Retirement )


So now comes the ‘art’ of retirement. I’ve got to work out how to grow old disgracefully ( and at times gracefully ) without getting bored or wallowing in my headspace.  As some of you will know over recent years I have struggled to navigate my Bipolar condition, and of late have taken on more family responsibilities.  After much discussion with my family I’m going to retire on Wednesday 9th October 2019.

Regrets, I’ve had a few but then again too few to mention.  I wish I had possibly gone contracting when I was at the height of my Oracle Development powers but having said that, that’s not the person I am, I’m not a risk taker and one thing that I think retirement will bring is the ability to try a few things with the aide of a safety net.  At the top of the list of things that are important though are self maintenance, I’ve got to navigate my Mental Health carefully and ensure that I can enjoy retirement, I think that’s where my friends are going to come into it big time.  You may not have time for me but I’ll now have more time for you and that probably means I’ll be that irritating retired colleague who is hassling you to meet up for coffee so that I can tell you about any new string to my bow. Be prepared.   I’ve got to remember that there is a social aspect to a job, it provides acquaintances and friendships itself, the job will have provided a degree of self worth though I’ve felt that in recent years I wasn’t as good at the job as I had been previously  ( that’s not held out in all the kind things people have said about me ) but I need to remember that I have to get my self worth from somewhere.  I’m pretty sure that one of the key things will be structure, I’ll need to ensure that I generate enough structure in my days, I think I’m going to task myself with 1000 words of writing a day and 12000 steps a day as well, Millie the dog can help me with part of that.

Retirement does mean that I become a man of leisure, meeting friends for coffee and hopefully not forgetting who they are in between those meetings as my short term memory fades.  I’ll probably find that I now wake up more than once a day !!!   I’m going to do the best with the aide of my dog Millie to make sure that the days are not full of watching Antique Roadshow repeats.  Also  I guess I’m going to have to be kind to my children as they will eventually choose any Nursing home I get sent to  !!!  They say Old Age is when work is a lot less fun and fun is a lot more work, i'm unsure thats true as I'm going to make sure that I have fun.  I also expect to have quite a few opportunities for creativity outside of work, poetry, writing stories, music, improv, travel ………….. probably lots more trips to see my Grandchildren in the USA and Norwich.

Regards my career at Aviva/Norwich Union, I hope I’ve had some sort of impact on the company and on people, I have always tried my best to be helpful and open and honest in the workplace. I think I’ve always been a good team player rather than that high flying individual.  I’m hoping that I can take that team player from work and throw that into the Improv group I attend in Norwich and the shows we do, I think I have a possible long term goal of getting an Improv troop going in Great Yarmouth but I’m not at a level where I could make that happen at the moment.

I appreciate that the last few years have been difficult and I did take a reduction in my grade from a D to a C to navigate that better.  I think retirement is an extension of that, its pulling the levers that I can to give myself a full and rewarding life, I also want to make sure that I can be the best version of myself for my family and my friends and I think taking ‘work’ out of the equation really is the right outcome at this point in time.

I hopefully get to write that poetry book I keep promising, I get to write the childrens stories up that I told to my Sons and then to my Grandchildren.  I guess I’m about to start building one of those cliché but fun bucket lists as well, mines probably going to be a Skip list as the length keeps growing.  I did 5 minutes stand up comedy earlier this year that I wrote all myself, which I’m doing again in December which was a bit of a bucket kicking moment. 

Here I want to thank all my family, friends, colleagues that have helped me get this far down the road, I’m sure you all know who you are.  Thanks to some really supportive managers as well down the years.

My advice in these highly polarised political times is to just be kind to each other.  #bemorekind   ( that old adage, treat others as you would like to be treated )

Some will have said that I’ve never grown up, especially with my life long love of Doctor Who, but some say that You have to put off being young until you can retire.  Here comes the future at 100 mph ...................

    kind regards & peace
         Tony



Monday, 20 May 2019

BiPolar Mind versus Typical Mind: Vive le Difference maybe ?!?


Some people are quite adamant that Mental illness isn’t one of those things you should choose to be ignorant about. However I appreciate that the information isn’t always out there for people to contextualise when dealing with people navigating Mental Health conditions.  What you don’t know can and often impact on someone navigating their Mental Health condition.  I’ve borrowed a format from an aqquaintance called Lizzie to try and explain how my Brain works as opposed to someones ‘Typical’ Brain.

I have Bipolar disorder Type 2.
Today, I want to give you a peek into the inner workings of a bipolar mind — specifically mine.  This is mine and not everybody with BiPolar though I’m sure that behaviours are similar across those with BiPolar.
The best way to go about this is to compare a “Normal” Brain to my brain (which hereafter shall be referred to as the Bipolar Brain). I realize normal is somewhat subjective, lets try and call it a ‘Typical’ brain and we all have cracks here and there. People with bipolar disorder can have dysfunction which affects every part of their lives, including cognitive function.
The “Typical” Brain vs. The Bipolar Brain
The “Typical” Brain has a rhythm, a circadian rhythm — a cycle of activity. The psychological and physiological changes of a person that can be affected by light and dark and thrown out of whack by say, jet lag. It’s a pattern over a 24-hour period that generally has you going to bed and waking around the same times, and being hungry, tired, etc. around the same time every day. It is self-sustaining, yet changeable. It’s often referred to as the body clock. The Normal Brain takes a licking and keeps it ticking.
The Bipolar Brain can fly by the seat of its pants left to its own devices. Bipolar disorder is associated with irregular circadian rhythms. I am often a free-running rhythm. Normal circadian rhythm and just trying to be “Normal” can be a huge effort for the bipolar mind. It is a goal for stability and when achieved, still extremely easy to be knocked off course.  This is why robustness and resilience are the holy grail for Bipolar minds when discussing their condition with their Talking Therapists.
The “Typical” Brain keeps its surroundings based on its particular likes and taste in décor and level of cleanliness it is comfortable with. Upkeep of surroundings involves chores, set tasks and a sense of order.
The Bipolar Brain may reflect the state by its surroundings. You really want to know how I’m doing, take a look at my home and my man cave. The farther the disorganisation reaches from the centre — possible the greater my grasp on the here and now. You see a horrible mess, and you can bet youself that my brain is a mess too.
I do like neat and tidy. My wife likes near and tidy, it can be a source of conflict. 
Structure is good for the Bipolar Brain and calm peaceful clean surroundings are ideal and what I like. When there is a mess, I can not always just fix it. It’s not an excuse to be a lousy housekeeper. Or a sign of laziness. Some people do think that.  It is the Bipolar Brain exploded.
The Typical Brain in matters of the heart may proceed with caution and is observant of cues from the object of its affection and proceeds accordingly.
The Bipolar Brain takes its lead from my wide open emotions, this means that if manic I can be manic in emotional or relationship situations, I like to hug and I don’t always respect peoples own body space.  If in a depression the opposite can be true and I shy away from social contact.
The Typical Brain has levels of openness with others, intimate, best friend, family, acquaintance.
The Bipolar Brain, I tend to be either in or you are out. You either get me or you don’t. I either like you or I don’t. Keeping up the façade of a normal well-adjusted person is again exhausting, am I repeating that,  anxiety can be at the centre of trying to keep a balance.
The Typical Brain is a sedate train ride around the zoo.
The Bipolar Brain can be biggest roller coaster in the park.
The Typical Brain on drugs is I don’t know actually !?!
The Bipolar Brain on drugs is often hopefully more of a “typical” Brain.   That’s why Medical Professionals use medicine for BiPolar.
Ever wonder why people with bipolar have a high incidence of self-medicating? Heres some information.  I’m lucky that I rarely tend to self medicate.  A drug that incapacitates the typical persons Brain can calm and focus mine
The Typical Brain has to see it to believe it, or some concrete proof of it. It being whatever it is.
The Bipolar Brain can see it if I believe it. No proof needed. I’m very scientific generally and have less flights of fancy then other sufferers of BiPolar, however in mania I can sometimes consider things at a more existential level and have them make a crude sense to me.  
The Typical Brain has a train of thought.
The Bipolar Brain can be a queue of bumper cars.
The Typical Brain might see words to describe life.
The Bipolar Brain you might says sees colours, broad brush strokes to describe life.
The Typical Brain is fairly steadfast in its fears and beliefs no matter the situation.
The Bipolar Brain when too happy (manic) has few if any fears, and when sad no beliefs or no trust in anything.
The Typical Brain thinks, filters and then speaks or writes.
The Bipolar Brain speaks or writes, then thinks, then realises sometimes that no filter has been applied.
The Typical Brain can follow a logical progression and form a plan, then see it through to completion, even if slightly delayed.
The Bipolar Brain sees the pieces and starts to put them together — oh look! Something distracting has come into view.  Then has to decide what to deal with.  This is why Mindfulness (meditation) I think helps with BiPolar.

So there you have a rough idea of whats going on in my BiPolar brain, I’m sure from other articles that I’ve seen like this that it’s different but similar for lots of folks.
My brain isn’t a bad brain, it’s a brain with challenges. I’m a husband, father, friend, co-worker with the challenges my brain brings.
I guess it feels to me like I will always disappoint people to some degree as folks may focus on my absences more than my strengths as they are probably more evident month to month.
I guess for some people the above may not help understand me and I will always be an oddball, a curveball but I like to think even with navigating my BiPolar I’m still a good Husband, Father, Friend, Colleague when and where it matters though my contribution comes with a degree of risk.
I think one of the oddest things is that often people do like me yet I don’t like myself especially when I’m falling short I hate my brain.
I’ll leave it there and hope it again helps to some degree with understanding me.

    peace
         Tony



Thanks to Lizzie C.  ( The Mighty ) for the format of the above.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

BiPolar Roller: Returning to Work


Its great that people these days want to break down barriers and taboos about mental health.  Usually this means talking about depression as many are affected by this in some way.   BiPolar is also surprisingly common, they say perhaps 1 in 100 have the condition though many are undiagnosed.  BiPolar can have depressive mood swings but also it has mania which means the treatment is different to just taking anti depressants.  I’m unsure that people understand BiPolar that well and just use the term too commonly to describe erratic behaviour or perhaps severe mood swings.
Becoming unwell
I was undiagnosed for 20 years, in fact until 5 years ago when a Psychiatrist put together my health history and my current episode and diagnosed me.  Some people can associate an initial diagnosis with specific triggers, I have never really been able to do that.  For me there are always a cocktail of things going on from work, personal life and my catastrophising headspace.  As well as the mania and depression I also have high anxiety as part of navigating my mental health.  For 20 years, not very often I had been signed off work occasionally with Stress, Anxiety, Depression, it seemed vaguely cyclical and the only medication given was anti depressants.
When I’m manic I don’t usually spot it, partly because my personality traits can be similar as I’m an extrovert, but my symptoms of mania are often high energy, talkative, jumping quickly from one thought to another, interrupting people, walking around at 100 mph at home and in the office, filling my diary with social events, buying tons of stuff on ebay ………..etc……….  I really need spotters at work and at home as I don’t see mania.  I can often feel/see low mood and anxiety coming though and  I work to navigate it.   With the mania I have often had to be seen by the Mental Health crisis team to evaluate where I am and what can I do to stabilise, stabilising being really hard and often a depressive crash coming after the manic episode.
Going back to work
After being off for 6 weeks this time, most of which is quite hazy to me as I was heavily medicated, I was eager to return to work. I like my job, love might be too strong a word, despite being asked by Mental Health nurses if it's really what I wanted to do.
Going back to work was scary; I was nervous. My boss has been incredible, HR have been supportive, explaining that no one was holding judgement of me and that they really wanted my return to work to be a success, that they wanted to try and do something different with this return to work rather than landing me how they have previously.  I’m grateful for this and was pleased to be able to have such an open conversation.  One of the things I’m worried about is that I’m nearly 55 years old and it seems that my episodes are getting nearer together now, they used to be 3 or 4 years apart but they seem more regular than that now and I really really don’t want my last years at work to be my worst years at work, to go out from my employment on a real low !?!   This has me in tears with the Boss which is very unusual.   However I digress and all I can say is that I’m getting really good support at work with a return to work plan and some different work to do than my usual work to see if there is something different that I can do.
I’m aiming through a return to work plan to become as robust and resilient in the workplace as I can be and to try and not have a hugely extended time away from work as that’s not good for me either.  Last year I had an episode and I managed to get my work duties adjusted without being off work for a 3,4 week period to try and get back to a good place where I was making a contribution in the workplace.  One thing that is often a hard battle is when my short term memory just refuses to play ball, I’m then having to write everything down at work and home.
Disclosure
I'm a pretty open person and so Im ‘out’ at work as someone with BiPolar, I’m not saying that this is an avenue that everyone would be comfortable in the workplace with?  I choose to tell people mostly because I’m always keen that people have as much information about what they are dealing with in a colleague, Im sometime afraid that it might come across as needy, its meant to be helpful and also to help other people as I’ve had folks contact me in the workplace and hopefully see me as a confidant for them as they navigate their own mental health challenges.
I have been lucky enough to be asked to talk to 2 Senior Leaders in the company about my BiPolar and I saw that as a great opportunity to push that those who navigate mental health conditions can be positive members of the workforce as part of a diverse workforce.  At the same time I appreciate that it can be disruptive when an episode occurs especially if some of the behaviours are evident in the workplace before efforts are taken to address them.
I do have to keep fighting with my catastrophising headspace that I’m not less than everyone else because of my condition, I often think that I contribute less than everyone else.
Warning signs
I'll normally disclose my condition at some point with anyone I work with closely, as I need their support in keeping an eye on me. I need spotters like my Boss, close colleagues and family to spot if I’m drifting into mania.  Whilst I manage my condition relatively well I think, I still like to have someone watching out in case they spot any symptoms. These include: higher energy than normal; working long hours; stress; talking very fast; jumping between thoughts, and not making sense. 
Finding fellowship
I’ve found that a number of us at work have bonded over mental health and that we support each other off the side of our desks and as part of the Wellbeing programme at work.  Its really important I feel to have these relationships in the workplace if you are lucky enough that that happens.
What you can do
I think the best advice that I can give is if someone chooses to confide in yourself, if you are worried about someone else, take it seriously and don’t treat it like its some debilitating ailment that you are scared of.
Perhaps ask "are you okay?" if you feel someone is acting out of character.  You probably want to do this in an appropriate 1:1 setting, perhaps get someone out for a cup of tea, paying attention and being willing to listen will often mean a lot to a colleague but it may mean a degree of commitment on your part.
Almost everyone is on the mental health spectrum, the human being is susceptible to stress, moods, anxiety, worry it’s just that some people bounce back naturally and some people less so.   Those with prevailing mental health challenges are just another diverse part of the human condition.

Hope this made sense & helps,
           Tony

Monday, 6 May 2019

My first ever stand up slot

This is my first ever stand up slot
Please by all means share constructive critique
Ive written all the material myself from the ground up

https://soundcloud.com/mezzaninedoor/stand_up_live_jurnets_2nd_may


Monday, 25 March 2019

Velcro for the Negative !

I havent blogged for a long while and I don't think I have often blogged when I'm actually in the midst of an episode.  So for once I'm doing that, hoping that it will be cathartic and also hoping that it will help some folks.

I've titled this 'velcro for the negative' which is a phrase that Ruby Wax used about herself and its something thats stuck in my mind and something thats apt to my current thinking, my current thinking being that Im catastrophising lots of local issuettes, family & self stuff,  we can become a sort of landing strip, velcro, for negative thoughts and its really hard to break that. 

Ive often talked about a toolbox for navigating my BiPolar and I've been trying to reach into that and break the cycle im in and also Im aware that people have seen me and my even think that Im actually okay, but Im not, below the surface much is going on and I've tried to stay socially active to try and keep this rut to a minimum, to try and navigate this but at the moment it feels that Im fining Mindfulness,  CBT, Talking Therapy, Exercise all quite difficult.   My GP said Im doing the right things but that still means that Im facing castatrophising when Im thinking about situations and Im not getting out of bed until 2pm some days because Id rather hide under the covers.  One thing that has helped me is a Buddhist Gratefulness medititation though, Im aware that I don't want to face the world but the last few times I've laid in after 12-14 hours sleep I have tried to apply this to my life and I've felt it help position myself for a half decent day, a chance to peel back that velcro to some degree.  Its funny because Ive helped run the 21 days of happiness back at work to help people with their mental health and even though I've helped run that and formulate the exercises with a colleague I haven't managed to learn the habits myself !!!  The idea is that it takes 21 days to form a habit like it takes 10000 hours to become an expert.   So the idea with any tool in our mental health tookbox really is that initially what we can hope for is that we get good habits as that happens quicker than any expertise with the tools.  Thats definitely true.

Im hoping that this rut will be limited and Im hoping that Im turning the corner with my headspace, today I have to self talk myself into performing at my Level 2 Graduation Improv show tonight, Im conflicted because Im off work sick but at the same time, though sometimes creatively im empty, Improv has been good for my mental health, another tool, another safe space, hopefully it will be okay and okay is probably good enough at the moment.

So Im not sure if Im making any sense, I was reading I think that a Buddhist Monk when talking to a Neuroscientist discussed that we are Nego-Centric as humans, made worse because the culture that we live in can constantly make us feel that we are lacking, that those around us can constantly make us feel that we are lacking ....... Added to that we have stress going on, the different types that say that  were not getting what we want, were getting what we dont want, trying to protect what we have, losing what were attached to, not good enough to achieve what we need to.   Wanting creates stress and feelings of deficiency or lack.   Like velcro all that negative stuff attaches on.   Basically we often really dont love ourselves or even like ourselves enough.   One friend once said I was the nicest person he knew, he may have even said it two or threee times however I have never felt I can believe that at face value ......... He cant have met many people to form that opinion.   I must be  a false pretender, says the devil on my shoulder.

We need to try and be grateful for what we have and not introduce the stress of wanting, we need to give ourselves the chance to love ourselves, we need to try and turn away from overt self criticism.  At the moment my biggest challenge is to try and get up out of bed in the morning and challenging the fear of every day that its going to be a disaster as normally it isnt.   We can be really judgemental and often we stand in judgement of ourselves far more than anyone else.   Talking Therapy will help me with this as well as good behavours but as ever there is no silver bullets for Mental Health.

Hope that makes some sense, is some help to folks,  We've got not just to be there for others we need to be there for ourselves as well.

As a Coda, a lot of friends have asked me recently, how can they help me?  The answer for me is just to continue to be good friends that don't judge me, ditch any pity for me and channel your compassion for people.  Dont say calm down or cheer up.  Overlook when Im perhaps being less of a friend than I should be, encourage me to be social and have a healthy lifestyle.

Peace x

Friday, 14 December 2018

Christmas Post ........ Ideas for Resilience as you Navigate Mental Health


Sometimes I know that my blog posts border on dissecting the negative aspects of Mental Health so I thought for a Christmas blog I would look at resilience and the kind of things that might help you navigating your mental health condition.  Resilience is something that I have always struggled with after a BiPolar episode, getting back to that place where things are not whirling around anxiously or low mood has you tied up in the mornings or mania is feeding a confidence frenzy and forward momentum beyond what others can cope with.  So think on the following as some good hygiene for resilience:-

Waking Up – Talk positively to yourself when you are carrying out your morning routine, try and dispel negative thoughts about the day ahead, visualise a successful day
Starting the Working Day – Get 1 or 2 tasks out of the way before you even reading your eMails***
Dealing with Distractions during the Working Day – Try and avoid leeting Social Media into your working day. Manage your eMail and communications, don’t let eMail manage you.
Mid Morning – Get up and walk somewhere away from your desk before returning to continue working
Morning – Try and carry out a short mindfulness exercise during the morning, even if this is just concentrating on the Breathe for 3/5 minutes
Lunchtime – Try and have a light lunch & a brisk walk
After Lunch – Same rule applies, Get 1 or 2 tasks out of the way before you even reading your eMails
Mid Afternoon - Try and carry out a short mindfulness exercise during the morning, even if this is just concentrating on the Breathe for 3/5 minutes
Afternoon – Find somewhere and do some stretches
Before finishing work for the day – Plan your first 1 or 2 tasks for ***
Reflection – It can be really good to Journal for resilience, a reflective diary can really give you insight into yourself and your navigation of your mental health
Evening – Approach the evening in a similar way to the working day, get any home tasks out of the way and then chill & relax, do stuff you and yours really like doing

& if you only do 1,2 or 3 of the above don’t ever beat yourself up , start again the next day

Tony

( in case I don’t blog again before Christmas, a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year )

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

'twas the night before Brexit ( poem/parody )


'twas the night before Brexit
And all through the House
Not a creature was stirring
Not even the Louse
The Primeminister sat down at Chequers with care
She could never be sure what Boris had done to her chair
The Cabinet were nestled all snug in their beds
Whilst naked visions of Mogg & Gove danced in their heads
Theresa in her stillettos and Raab being dab
Thinking about the DUP and what they would nab
When out on the lawn there was such a clatter
David Davis voice shouted out 'whats the matter'
Away to the window did May with a dash
As Juncker appeared on the lawn in a flash
Michael Barnier waved papers and made quite a show
Whilst Boris & Starmer stood there toe to toe
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear
But Jeremy Corbyn in his leathers with cheer
With a soundbite, he appeared so lively and quick
As he made his Brexit case and the Remainers quite sick
More rapid than Eagles, Jeremy Hunt came
And he called on all his Mps by name
Now Grayling Now Hammond Now Hancock Now Soubry
On Evans On Lewis On Liam Fox On McVey
To the top of Number Ten to the top of the Wall
Now all you Tories come answer Mays Call
She has you a Brexit that may not be what youd grasp
But you dont want Boris Hard One, it would sting like an asp
As Barniers barbs like a wild hurricane fly,
When Brexit meets an obstacle, it seems to reach to the Sky;
Socialmedia debates are raging out there too,
The Cabinets falling apart even with the Chief Whips glue,
And then in a twinkling, I heard that the truth
was that Boris was prancing with each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the corridors of Westminster Theresa was bound:
She was dressed all in red, from her head to her foot,
Rees Mogg and Davis chuckled, imagined her covered in soot;
A bundle of Memos were flung in her sack,
And she look'd like a peddler just opening her pack:
Her eyes- How they twinkled, her simple and merry
It felt like our Theresa had been at the Sherry
Her droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
Her face was ashen and as white as the snow,
Barnier had stumped her as she grinded her teeth
On the altar of Brexit she laid a great wreath.
Tusk was broad faced with a little round belly,
Theresa crying ‘Irish backstop’ all over the telly,
Chubby and plump like a jolly old elf
Boris still promised all the money for the National Health
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know we had plenty to dread.
Theresa spoke not a word, she continued to work,
Arguing with the DUP & with Boris the jerk
And laying her finger aside of her nose
And giving a nod, from her desk she arose
She sprung to the Commons desk to announce with a whistle
The SNP listened hard with their suits dressed with thistle,
We heard her exclaim, as she summoned her might,
Brexit means Brexit and still my Chequers plan is right.
<FIN>