In this his second blog for Bipolar UK Nicky Chinn details how self care is important to his ability to live with bipolar disorder.

It takes courage to face up to yourself

My first bipolar episode was in 1961. Back then most people thought psychotherapy was something from outer space. At sixteen I certainly hadn’t heard of it. Thirty years later, and being asked to talk about my feelings. The only time I did that was  when I was drunk. In fact therapy had only recently entered my vocabulary and that was just because my psychiatrist had suggested it. But I knew how to avoid it. Simple.  “I DON’T NEED IT”!   It takes a hell of a lot of courage to face up to yourself and your feelings. Back then I didn’t have that kind of courage.

Bipolar is a condition of highs and lows. My mood swings are more commonly low than high. The low mood thrives on being the negative voice. “You're unlovable”, “You're unwanted”. I believed every word. I had felt it even before I became unwell. My depression was a vessel full of imperfections and the greatest imperfection was me. On the other hand, my hypomanic swings are very creative. As a songwriter it might be when I'm at my best, but unfortunately these swings never last long enough. Then my mood moves on to an extreme high that has the intensity of a lightning storm, a crippling force that tears me apart when it’s out of control. But what goes up must come down. That’s when depression sets in. I can no longer keep the wolf from the door and I need to be hospitalized.  Bipolar has its own way of creeping up on me, ambushing me and stabbing me in the back when I least expect it. It’s been doing that since I was a kid.

For too long I had depended on others, expecting them to get me well.  I had put my faith solely in medication and psychiatry relying on  a magic cure, becoming angry when I didn’t get one. I had convinced myself it was a chemical imbalance and nothing else. It is a chemical imbalance, but I no longer believe it is nothing else. When I look at my past episodes there was always a psychological trigger. All my life I had been relying on everyone and anything other than me to get me out of prison. i had spent so much time being a victim, not an attractive characteristic, it still hadn't occurred to me that it might be about me. . Illness had become a large part of my identity. I had to change that.

Therapy and bipolar

I resisted therapy for a long time. Too long. Once I made the torturous decision to commit   to it l was on a different trajectory. I say torturous because I knew there were roads ahead I didn’t want to go down. Uneven paving stones I could trip over and break an emotional bone or two. But I’d got to the point of no return.  I knew that after forty-nine years of turmoil and thirty-three years of battling bipolar disorder, I couldn’t continue like this. I was a boat without a rudder.  I had to either negotiate my way through tempestuous seas with waves that showed no mercy or drown. There have been times when I would have preferred the latter.

Having decided to go into therapy, my first harrowing discovery was that there were some very deep open wounds and a broken heart.  I didn’t even know they were there.  I had covered them up all my life.  Bandaged them and anaesthetised them so cleverly, or so I thought, with layer upon layer of denial to the point where they didn’t even hurt. But the problem was the bandages had to come off.  I hadn’t stopped to consider what would happen in therapy. What happened was when they came off it hurt like hell. I had found out something very revealing about denial. It doesn’t work.

Therapy was not going to be easy. There are no free lunches. I knew that there would be many an obstacle along the way.  I was just about to walk headfirst into one.  I went back to when I was a child and did I get a shock! The people who were supposed to take care of me and nurture me did no such thing. I had never considered it in that way before. I’d been hanging out with my old friend denial again. I looked deep inside myself and found a child in pain. It was me. I didn’t even know he was there. When I found him, he was trembling with fear and panic. He needed nurturing. To be held. To heal. We both needed to heal. His pain was my pain. We had both been in an emotional battle for too long. Sheltering our demons for too long. it was time to let them go. It was time to move forward.  It was time to heal.

Wounds heal and pain subsides. But they can take their time.  They also leave their scars. Looking at those scars in the mirror remains a habit to this day. It serves to remind me that I have survived, and that is no bad reminder. It was one of the things that helped me get well. I was a survivor and so is everybody else who comes through this punishing disorder.

In my fight to get healthy I had also discovered that no one was going to take better care of me than me. No one ever had.  I had been badly parented.  I had no examples to follow. I had to learn from scratch. Now after all these years it was my turn to face the daunting task of parenting myself.  A big responsibility I placed on myself But I could only do it with the help of others. I dropped the pride that was already cut to pieces although I didn’t want to admit it. I removed my well-practised defences.  I needed to be shown the way by those who knew how difficult the journey could be. I was learning to place my trust in others. I was learning to place my trust in myself and that’s where trust begins. I was evolving.

I am well most of the time these days. I have found confidence and self-esteem. No mean feat when I grew up without any. My moods have visited extremes that at times have been almost impossible to bear.  Having said that, when I am healthy there have been many great times as well.

Therapy helped me give myself a better life

Therapy has helped me in more ways than I can describe. I believe it’s one of the reasons I’ve survived. It’s been one hell of a bumpy ride, but the bottom line for me is a simple one. Not only did therapy give me a foundation on which to get well for much longer periods of time, it helped me give myself a better life. The broken heart isn’t broken anymore. The chaos in my brain is settling down. If there is a crisis I now have the tools to deal with it, I had needed to find a good compass. I did and it was me. Now the one consistent feature of my life is change. For a guy, who in all honesty, didn’t want to go into therapy, I really couldn’t ask for a whole lot more than this.