Carly Sharples

Hello.

Welcome to my blog. I document my adventures in travel, style, and food. Happy reading!

Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal.

Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal.

Christmas Flowers

The filthy animal being in this case my mental health.

I adore Christmas, but it can be so... extra.

Don't get me wrong - it is such a deliciously magical time of year and I eagerly anticipate it. I love catching up with everybody, the food, the twinkling lights, the cheese... but it can easily become just too much.

I become anxious. I get stressed. I worry about family politics and keeping everyone happy. I feel pressured. I become easily overstimulated. The lights, noise, colours, smells - it's an assault on the senses. Everything gets to me after a while and if I don't keep tabs on it it can build up into an epic crescendo of clusterf*ckery.

I don't cope well with a lack of structure or sleep, the pleasurable effects of alcohol counter the benefits of the medication that I take to keep me stable and I honestly just find the whole period exhausting.

The perception of my moods at Christmas can range from garrulous and euphoric - the life and soul of the party - to appearing downright rude and insular. I recognise this, but I don't like it.

I accept invitations to see friends and family, but then hide out in my bedroom because it all becomes too much and I feel safer there. I don't like letting my husband down when we are invited to events as a couple but he ends up going alone, because as much as I want to go I just can't. I hate the fact that he has to explain my absence by saying I'm unwell, which is absolutely true, but then is mildly embarrassed by my bamboozled children who will often pipe up with "No she's not, Daddy, she's just in bed!". They don't understand of course, as in their eyes I'm not "poorly" in the traditional sense.

I loathe how if I do make it out I need to have coping mechanisms, like sitting and crocheting or disappearing to the loo for 20 minutes at a time - several times - to stop me freaking out and having a panic attack. I detest how this must make me look, like I'm avoiding people or conversations, or being utterly antisocial. 

I hate the way that I feel like I need to be in bed, asleep, to switch off my mind and escape from my thoughts; but then I feel like my bed becomes a prison and I'm trapped, suffocating from a thick cloud of guilt, FOMO and encapsulated by all these thoughts that just don't go away, no matter how hard I try. 

I much prefer the Carly who is hospitable and sociable, of course. As I'm sure everybody close to me does. But you can't pour from an empty cup, can you? The festive period drains my batteries down so much that usually by January I'm an absolute wreck. I feel hollow, my head is all cluttered and I just need to come up for air.

I feel nothing, and yet I feel everything.

Upshot Espresso

I've gained quite the insight into my mental health over the years and have learnt to recognise the warning signs. The triggers. The tipping point where I need to retreat for both my own sanity, and those around me. I don't notice it as quickly as James does, though. He knows when it is coming and he tries to protect me. But how can somebody truly protect you from yourself? He can't see inside my head. The fear, the paralysis, the paranoia. The thoughts that become so all-consuming that it is difficult to embrace what is reality, and utterly impossible to find peace. I guess he has become hypersensitive to the little nuances in my behaviour over the years that indicate the balance is shifting. It's possibly the only time that the label my diagnosis provides becomes liberating, rather than a noose because I cannot help the fact I have a mental illness.

It's not a choice I make; it is what it is.

I will never grow out of it.

I will need medication for the rest of my life.

It may subside at times; but just as I am lulled by the gentle, soporific lapping of the waves it will be back with a vengeance as a tsunami, thunderously crushing everything in its wake for no particular reason other than just because. I may end up riding the crest of these waves, literally on top of the world for a short while, or more likely, I will end up being sucked down into the deep, black abyss.

Drowning.

It's sink or swim and I owe it to myself and my family to try and keep swimming, no matter how strong the current. 

Mince Pie Port

Even if mental health isn't your Achilles heel, if you're an introvert like I am, then by your very nature you need time alone. Time to think and time to just be. This becomes increasingly difficult in the build up to, and over, the juggernaut that is Christmas. I thought I would offer up some tips that help me through the chaos with the hope that it may help you, too.

Take Time to Plan Ahead

Shopping, wrapping, cooking... whatever it is, write down what you need to do and then break the tasks down into manageable chunks. You can then chip away at these so it doesn't become overwhelming. Your head will feel infinitely clearer so you feel better prepared to approach the social side of things.

Choose Your Battles.

Structure your time and plan an itinerary ahead. Try to resist spontaneity or impulse at this time of year as this can throw you off kilter and jeopardise your mindset. Forewarned is forearmed, as the cliché goes, but trust me, it will keep you focussed knowing what you've got to do, at which time and with whom. 

Don't accept everything you are invited to - be selective. And most importantly, make sure you schedule in time for R&R in between events. 

Take a Wingman

Somebody who understands what you're going through and is supportive.

My husband is an extrovert, yet he just 'gets' how I feel. He is one of those good-natured people who have the ability to magically light up a room with their sheer presence and can make anybody feel at ease. He's the first one on the dance floor at a party and the last to leave. He's the one who scans a room to make sure nobody is left out or alone. He will chat to absolutely anybody and is one of the most carefree, optimistic and happiest people I have ever met in my life.

Well, they do say that opposites attract, don't they?! 

Fortunately, his dazzling personality deflects attention away from me and I am able to stay within my comfort zone without looking like a miserable b*tch. 

Have a Safe Space to Think

You may think that this doesn't make any sense, after all didn't I just say that I need to escape from my thoughts? That I can't switch my brain off? Yes. That's true. But the fog clears somewhat when I am allowed my own personal space and time to think, free of any external stimuli and interactions with others.

Being with others becomes claustrophobic. Retreating into my own little sanctuary, on the contrary, isn't.

Have you got somewhere you can go that is calm and quiet?

Christmas Angel Coffeehouse

Go Out

One of my favourite things to do is visit a coffee shop, filled with people. It's quite the running joke amongst my friends and family at how often I can be found in a coffee shop (Angel Coffee House is my favourite, if you're local to Lincoln. Unless it's Christmas when I can be found in Starbucks most weeks sipping an eggnog latte).

Guess what? Despite the crowds, I find this relaxing.

Because nobody wants a piece of me.

I don't have to talk to anybody, I don't have to listen to anybody.

I don't have to worry about being antisocial, because nothing is expected of me.

When you feel so overwhelmed, going out can feel like an epic, arduous trek so I get a small sense of pride that I've achieved something. 

I'm still showing up as a member of society.

I can choose to people watch and observe, or I can just lose myself in whatever I am doing.

I'm alone, but I'm with others.

I have space to think, but I also have a distraction from the constant turmoil in my mind.

Tell People How You're Feeling

I don't mean by giving a "with my hands!" jocular response when you're asked how you are.

I'm going to try and lead by example by telling the truth about how I'm feeling and giving a genuine explanation for my absence rather than looking all flaky with "I'm not feeling too good".

I'm not up for airing all my dirty laundry in public, or seeking attention, but there is a balance to be found and it absolutely should be fine to tell people that you're just not up to it.

It's not them, it's you.

How do we break the stigma if we aren't being honest? I have bipolar disorder and I don't like it, but I shouldn't feel ashamed. 

Take Advantage of Offers to Help

Whether it is somebody offering to babysit for a few hours, sending your clean washing off to be ironed, or just being absolved of responsibility long enough to shut the door and have an undisturbed bath for an hour. 

Plan Something for the New Year

I find the answer to this is to go away for a couple of days in January, usually to Berlin.

It is so unbelievably refreshing to just press pause on life, even for a short while.

To breathe.

To take stock, reset and get going again ready for the year ahead.

Freedom from life and responsibility, albeit just for a day or two.

Going away is a self-indulgent luxury, but also a necessity. I honestly feel like this does me far more good than the alternative merry-go-round of psychiatrists, CPNs and zombifying medication.

Try and find something to focus your mind and keep you looking forward in the short term. 

Principal Games Room

As always, I don't have the answers and there is no miracle cure to be found here. What works for me may not work for you.

But rest assured - you are not alone.

Don't be afraid to seek help.

Visit your GP or talk through how you are feeling with a trusted friend or family member. You can call the Samaritans for free in the UK on 116 123 and they are there to listen (and not judge!) 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They aren't specialists in mental health, though, so if you feel out of your depth there then it is often best to call your local NHS Crisis Team for intervention. 

If you're reading this and are concerned for the health of somebody other than yourself, then here are some pointers from the Samaritans of behavioural changes to look out for in your loved ones:

  • lacking energy or appearing particularly tired
  • appearing more tearful
  • not wanting to talk or be with people
  • not wanting to do things they usually enjoy
  • a change in routine, such as sleeping or eating more or less than normal
  • using alcohol or drugs to cope with feelings
  • finding it hard to cope with everyday things
  • appearing restless and agitated
  • not liking or taking care of themselves or feeling they don't matter
  • being un-typically clumsy or accident prone
  • becoming withdrawn or losing touch with friends and family

And this factsheet I found, although American, offers some insight into helping somebody with bipolar disorder in particular, as it can often be quite complex. Rethink also has a handy PDF about staying well with bipolar disorder here. And if you're in the mood to bust some myths about bipolar disorder, this is quite a good overview {spoiler alert: having bipolar disorder does not mean you experience crazy ass mood swings 3781 times per day!}.

Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence
— Ovid

Take it easy and celebrate the small wins, no matter how inconsequential they may seem in the grand scheme of things. This too shall pass - just ride out the storm, you'll see. 

Catch y'all on the flip side!

Carly xo

 

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