Monday, 15 November 2010

My weight loss journey

My weight has fluctuated for the last 30 years. I remember reaching 17 stone in my early thirties. This led me to diet and I lost about 3 stone. I don’t think I ever thought about maintaining my new weight. I made no attempts to change my eating habits. It was pure luck that kept my weight fairly stable for a few years. I didn’t pile on the pounds. It just crept up on me over the years. It was mainly due to a sedentary occupation and general lack of activity. I have not been able to work much in the last ten years and this is when my weight began to increase. I first noticed the problem when I was pushing 19 stone. I joined a gym and dieted again. I lost about one stone. I stopped going to the gym and my bad eating habits returned. I had soon gone past 19 stone and approached 20 stone. This raised major flags because I had never been 20 stone in my life. This was late in 2007. I still thought I was okay.

In September of 2007, I went on an “activity” holiday to Club La Santa in Lanzarote. I was quite active and I enjoyed the holiday. In reality, this experience started the downward slide that led me to joining Slimming World. I think it was a combination of doing too much for my fitness level and the four hour return flight wedged in an airplane seat. The following 18 months was marked by a series of physical problems. My lower body was giving up. I had pains and discomfort in my legs, and it would shift from location to location. At the worst point, I remember that I could not get myself into or out of the bed. I ended up sleeping in my recliner on some occasions. In hindsight, I was slow in getting help. I tried the conventional approach at my GP surgery. This gave no relief. I finally found a good chiropractor and massage therapist. They managed to get me moving again, but I was still weighing in at about 20 stones.

By April of 2009, I realized that I had to do something. It was more due to the physical problems than the weight itself. I think I was still in denial about the weight. Fortunately my neighbour, Carol, was attending a Slimming World group in Claverdon. She invited me to go along with her to the group. I went along on 28th April, 2009 and began my food optimising journey. I weighed in at 20 stone 6.5 pounds. I lost weight from the first week and I was soon convinced that it worked. I am very good at following instructions and that is why I found the plan so good. I found a focus that surprised me. By early in August I had lost about 2 stone. The group was several miles from home and I wouldn’t be able to get there without a lift. Sarah Langford was starting a new group in Warwick at the Cricket Club. It was somewhere that I could walk to and I could also get some extra Body magic at the same time. Carol and I decided to try out the new group. We liked it immediately and decided to transfer.

Sarah’s new group went from strength to strength. It was eventually so successful that it split into two groups. I only missed one group session from early in August, 2009 until I reached my target on 5th October, 2010. On the week that I missed, I weighed in at another group locally. That was 62 consecutive weigh-ins. The Slimming World group became a very important part of my life, often my only social interaction in any week. I tried to get to group every week, no matter how I had felt during the day.

My PAT had been set some time ago at 14 stone. It became clear that it might be unrealistic and I adjusted it to 14 stone 6.5 pounds, for a total loss of 6 stone. This gave me the impetus to focus more and work hard for the target. Earlier in 2010, the group members were asked to set themselves a goal for the year. My goal was to reach my target before my holiday in October. I reached it with 9 days in hand and I was delighted. My holiday had been arranged to the same resort as I visited in September of 2007. It would be a celebration of my weight loss and a chance to be more active on the “activity” holiday. My main “before” photo had been taken in 2007 on one of the excursions. It would be a chance to repeat the excursion and get an excellent “after” photo at the same spot.

On the 2007 holiday, I was as active as could be considering my weight. I did some classes, swam a bit, played some social tennis and did some gym work. On the second visit I was far more involved. I added two sessions of social badminton, I did four 18Km sessions on the exercise bike, had a one to one golf lesson and practised what I had learnt. I had far more energy and got more out of the La Santa experience. I was pleased to find out that the same excursion was running. I managed to get my “after” photo in front of the El Golfo rock. In 2007, the walk down to the beach and back to the bus was quite an ordeal. This time it was a simple stroll. Before I joined Slimming World, I struggled after walking 10 minutes from my flat. I became breathless and my legs began to hurt. Recently, I have frequently walked for over an hour without any discomfort and I really enjoyed it.

My physical and mental healths are now so much better. I have suffered from Bipolar Disorder for almost 28 years. This basically means I am prone to mood swings even while taking medication. As I followed the plan and lost weight my mood swings became almost a thing of the past. Despite reaching 60 in February, I feel mentally and physically better than I have for many years. I have taken medication for high blood pressure and high cholesterol for over ten years. In 2008, my glucose intolerance shifted to Diabetes 2 and I started taking more medication. In my recent diabetes review, my blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar values were in the middle of the healthy ranges. I hope that it will be possible to reduce or even stop some medications at some point.

I take two medications for my Bipolar Disorder. One of them is Seroquel (Quetiapine) and it is notorious for causing weight gain. I have taken this medication for the full 18 months of food optimising and have lost weight steadily during this time.

I see reaching target as a beginning rather than a conclusion. I really think that food optimising has been the biggest factor in my continued weight loss. Despite my best intentions, I didn’t really increase my activity levels to any great extent. As I approached target, I hit a serious plateau. I fine tuned my diet as best I could and I also started to use my exercise bike. It had become something of a clothes rack. These efforts paid dividends and I soon reached my target. I see my biggest challenge as increasing my activity levels to help with my target maintenance. I see food optimising as my lifestyle choice from now onwards. I enjoy the food and I have never felt hungry. I followed the Green plan for most of the 18 months. I tried changing to Extra Easy completely but settled on 4 green days and 3 Extra Easy days each week. I have always tried to plan out a meal plan for the week between group meetings. I have also used the online food diary but now I only use it to check syn values. I have changed from being someone who lives on ready meals. I now eat mostly fresh food with plenty of fruit and vegetables. I cook more than I ever have and more than I ever thought I would.

I gave up on finding work three years ago. Now I am slimmer and a little fitter, I am actively seeking a voluntary position with a local company. I worked there on a job placement scheme when I was 6 stone heavier.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Thoughts on My Vacation / Holiday etc

My previous holiday had been in September 2007 with Spice UK. I went to Club La Santa in Lanzarote (Canary Islands). I was very apprehensive before I went but I had a great two weeks. I got on well with the other people in the group. I determined that I would go back in the future.

I returned to Club La Santa with Spice on Oct 14th on the holiday which is now one week. I have been suffering from a lot of anxiety this year, most likely due to the medication that is supposed to help me. It does help me sleep. I was really doubting whether I should go to La Santa, right up to the day before the flight, maybe even up to the morning of the flight. Thanks to a chat with a friend, I made it. I met seven others at the airport and I was less apprehensive. I didn't really relax until we got to the resort. I had a bedroom to myself in a four-bed sports apartment. It was not huge but it was my own space. I chose to go single occupancy because my sleep pattern can be a bit strange. The other three bedrooms had another single guy and two couples. We all got on very well. By the morning after arrival, I had already met 12 of the 24 others in the group. I knew the coordinator from my last visit, so that made 13. I met the others over the week. There was only one person from the previous holiday but it didn't matter. Everyone got on well and had a great week. Some were very sporty and did lots of stuff. Others, like me, did what they could. By the end of the week, I was more relaxed than I have been in years, probably since I was there last time.

I learned one big lesson. Even though I have been isolated for a long time, I can still get on well with people "face to face". I thought I had turned into someone who only relates to people electronically. It has been a shock coming back to an empty (cold) flat. I am not so lonely now. I am keen not to slip into such isolation again. I am sending off an application form for voluntary work. I spent 6 weeks at the same company on a work placement, so I am quite hopeful. I also need to find some other activities where I meet people. My slimming group has been a life saver over the last 19 months. I will continue to go when I can even though I have reached my target weight.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Not pushed my book in a while...

I am sorry to advertise my own book but no one else will do it. I wrote my autobiography, mostly as it relates to bipolar disorder. I am not going to make any money out of it, in fact it has cost me a lot. Being bipolar, that goes with the territory.

It is called "My Life as a Mood Swinger", written under the name Clive Wild. It was published by Xlibris in April 2009 and is available from Amazon or other good on-line retailers. I have a very limited number of signed copies if you have Paypal. Let me know at .


Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Being Bipolar Part VII–Road to Recovery(Wellness)

This part of my blog has been a long time coming. Probably because I have not been well. Now I have sorted my meds, I feel able to tackle the subject.

I added wellness to the heading because some people, including me, think that recovery implies that you are cured. That is not true in Bipolar Disorder and other life long mental illnesses. I think wellness is a much better goal.

What does wellness mean to me? I guess it means being able to carry on reasonably meaningful life despite having a mental illness. It is one thing to be able to do it. It is another thing to actually do meaningful things. I find myself able to do stuff most of the time. I have isolated myself so much that I don’t actually do it. Until I get over this inability to do things, I think my wellness has a good way to go. Staying home all the time is not most people’s idea of wellness. Feeling able is just the start.

I have lost the desire and maybe the ability to socialize. I would like to have good friends, the sort of people that you meet for coffee, go for a walk with, or maybe even play golf with. I feel like I am out of circulation, separate to the real world. I hear people talk about their lives and wonder why my life is no longer like that.

Wellness must come in various stages. Being happy with your meds regime and good coping skills are only the first step. I feel like I have achieved the first step and then become stuck, Where I should see a bright future, I just see a void. This makes me worry and threatens the wellbeing I have achieved. I have always had a lot of hope. This is threatened when I realize I am stuck.

I need to do things but I really have no idea what they are. I am not ready for senior clubs, playing bingo and dominoes. I don’t feel comfortable any more in resource cafes or drop-in centers. I am a baby boomer. Most of my fellow boomers are still working and have real lives. I can’t relate to most others of my age group. I don’t have much in common.

I guess my true wellness relies on me solving this problem. I need to build or rebuild some sort of life. “I used to have a life” doesn’t really help. I wrote about my story in an autobiography. I now need to write the next chapter, which seemed likely when I finished the book. I can’t have such a good life as before but I should be able to find something meaningful and satisfying.

Wellness is the ability to have a meaningful life without working. Retired people seem to manage it, but they usually have made good provisions for retirement. I call myself retired but that is a euphemism for losing the ability to get a job.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Six – Hope

Hope is something that is very important to me personally. I sometimes wonder where it comes from. It seems to be more of a state of mind for me. I retain hope when all seems black at some levels. I don’t know if I am alone in this experience. Logically, I would think that hope comes from a real expectation that things will get better. I seem to stay hopeful even when things may seem hopeless. I think that hope has kept me going through adversity, through the times when I have had to start my life over.

I don’t have a really strong idea of the future. If I did have any idea, I could possibly understand why I retain hope. It is that spark which helps you to get through each day, each week and the rest of your life. I may not understand it but I am very grateful that I have hope.

It doesn’t have much to do with the verb “to hope”. That is a more practical thing. “I hope it goes well” or “I hope you feel better soon”. The noun “hope” is so much more. Hopefulness and hopelessness are also more practical concepts.

Hope is such a difficult thing to write about. It is an extremely personal thing. I know from talking to friends that I am not alone in my experience of hope. Please post your comments and your views on hope. I like that my blog entries generate some discussion. I hope you found this blog thought provoking. I hope I don’t burn my bacon next time !!


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Five – Acceptance

I think that acceptance is key to wellness and recovery. In the first place, it leads to the search for a diagnosis. I actively looked for a diagnosis despite being quite ill at the time. I suppose I was more interested in getting help than getting a label. Some people who I talk to really worry about being called bipolar or whatever their diagnosis happens to be. A label doesn’t define you. Hopefully it will help you to get appropriate help. I really encourage new sufferers to seek help. It is far better if you are in control at this point. It is far better than being thrown into hospital, medicated and then diagnosed. I had a very good “stable” period after I was diagnosed and found good treatment. I was lucky to find a doctor who knew the subject well and I kept a relationship with him for about fifteen years. The stability of this relationship was key to my wellness. I was lucky to find a doctor who was around that long.

Those of us with a serious mental illness have it for the long term, maybe for life. Unless we accept that we are ill, we are destined for a lot of chaos in our lives. Acceptance of the illness (diagnosis) is only the first step. Many of the medication regimes have their own problems. We are often tempted to try going free, especially after a period of stability or particularly troublesome side effects. In my case, it took two attempts and the ensuing chaos to convince me that I really need the medication. Life is not always smooth and sometimes taking medication becomes a lower priority. Even though my first attempt at stopping Lithium led to a major manic episode, I tried again 4 years later when my life was particularly chaotic. I can’t honestly say whether I could have avoided either bad experience. Possibly it would have required strong intervention from family or a doctor. Unfortunately the idea of seeing doctors was a long way from my mind. The second stopping of Lithium suddenly led to a less severe but equally disruptive and painful manic episode. This time it led to a severe period of depression, unemployment, and a suicide attempt. Only stop medications gradually and do it with the agreement of a doctor.

I encourage all sufferers to accept that they are ill, that they need help and that they should keep medication compliant. If I had followed my own advice, I would be in a very different place, mentally and maybe physically. I might have missed out on a lot of good stuff, so it is a difficult call. I might be still living by the beach in Southern California and still pursuing a meaningful career. I am content in my life now but I can’t help saying “What if?” . I do still accept that I have a life long disorder and I need medication. I am as well as I have been for ages, both mentally and physically.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Four – Stigma

What is stigma? It is a subject with many aspects. Let me start off with a description from the UK mental health charity, Rethink.

Stigma is something judged by others as a sign of disgrace and something that sets a person apart from others.
When something like mental illness, disability or addiction, is stigmatised, the issue will often be avoided due to making people feel uncomfortable. People may even mock these things to make them less threatening.

For those living with mental illness, the stigma imposed upon them in society can lead to a lack of funding for services and public education, difficulty in finding employment, or in getting a mortgage, or even holiday insurance.

Ultimately, the silence and lack of understanding about mental illness encourages feelings of shame, and discourages people to seek treatment or even to admit that symptoms they may be experiencing may be related to a mental illness.

I guess my delay in blogging about stigma means that I don't have much to add on the subject. I do care about stigma and I try to combat it.

There is plenty of work going on to combat stigma. As a rule, more exposure in the media can help. That is as long as it is informed. Unfortunately, every negative story about mental health tends to increase stigma. It must be good if the general population are better informed about what mental illness is and about how common it is.

I think that mental health sufferers can get very isolated by their illness and this contributes to a different kind of stigma. They set themselves apart and are vulnerable to stereotyping.

Please feel free to add comments and describe your views of stigma.


Saturday, 20 February 2010

Being Bipolar Part Three – Day to Day Living

As I come to this subject, I wonder if I haven’t bitten off too much. I wonder if it is too vague. I keep saying that there should be more written about the mundane day to day experiences of being bipolar or maybe the experiences of having any long term mental illness. I only have experience of Bipolar Disorder but I am sure there are similar struggles or even worse struggles with illnesses such as schizophrenia.

I have asked myself what my life would be like if I wasn’t Bipolar. It is very hard to know because my experience spans almost 28 years. If I am honest, I was suffering symptoms way before that. I have effectively been bipolar for ever, at least as long as I remember. I think that there maybe too much emphasis is placed on first symptoms and diagnosis. First symptoms only come to light when they are severe enough to require treatment. In my case, it was a long journey to diagnosis from the first severe symptoms, in my case a manic episode.

I am trying to write about how it is to be a “stable” bipolar sufferer. I know this term is not generally liked. It is liked as much as “normal”. I talk about “stable” as living with good self management skills and medication that takes away the extreme symptoms. It may mean you can pursue a career but more likely it means you can get on with your life with limited intervention. I know some sufferers will continue to have episodes of depression or mania.

Being Bipolar means that you have to live with a regime of medication and psychiatric support. My psychiatric support is four-monthly appointments with a psychiatrist. Most times I could manage without but it is probably best not too drop off the radar completely. My GP handles prescriptions of psychiatric meds but they only do what the psychiatrist tells them. Even though I take meds every bedtime and every morning, I still sometimes forget. Things happen to distract you I guess. The best laid plans sometimes fail. Prescriptions in my case are monthly. This means I have to order my new month’s supply at the appropriate time. Here again I have a system. It works well but I can still occasionally forget and leave it a little late.

We sometimes do travel like “normal” people, although some people suggest that we shouldn’t travel. We might have a manic episode and do something illegal (I am joking!). If we do travel, we have the additional stress of making sure we have enough meds. We might have to arrange to get a new month’s supply early. Stress is the last thing that bipolar sufferers need and travelling becomes difficult. There is also the issue of pre-conditions on travel insurance. Most vanilla insurances would probably exclude treatment for bipolar disorder. There are specialist companies that offer insurance for people with long term illnesses. I’m sure it is normally more expensive. Charities like MDF help with such matters.

Very few bipolar sufferers continue a meaningful career. As in my case, the illness eventually gets the better of you and you end up on disability. Eventually you might leave a job or several jobs, sometimes with no warning. The result is that your resume or CV is trashed. It doesn’t need a brain surgeon to realize that you have problems. It probably wouldn’t matter that you hadn’t declared your illness. Whether or not you declare your illness on job applications is another major stress for bipolar sufferers. This dilemma also applies to other life situations. Do you declare your illness to new people or groups that you encounter in life? I have tried to be particularly open about my illness but I sometimes wonder what the cost is. I am beginning to think that I should be more selective in who I tell. We are in danger of stigmatizing ourselves if we are totally open. I will try to address stigma in a future part of this blog.

I have talked about social isolation. A lot of bipolar people live in isolation and tend to isolate them self even more. This leads to extreme loneliness. Even the best of friends will back off. No one wants to socialize with a crazy person. Maybe I am generalising too much. My social diary is not exactly overflowing with activities. I admit that it is very much due to the fact that I don’t reach out myself. Maybe fear of rejection or agoraphobia. Sufferers do lose a lot of friends or at best they become acquaintances. They become tired of apologising or trying to mend bridges. I constantly try to work out why I am so reluctant to leave the safety of my small flat. I don’t think I suffer from agoraphobia. I am not talking about major socialisation, just the odd person coming round for coffee or meeting you in town for coffee. The only people who might drop in at my flat are fellow sufferers. I “never” drop in at anyone else’s place. My slimming world meetings are my only social outlet. I also meet other sufferers at mental health related meetings or events.

For me personally, the worse thing about day to day living with bipolar is the uncertainty of how you will wake up each morning. Before this is the uncertainty of how you will sleep. Will you sleep 6 hours or 12 hours? Will you have weird and maybe lucid dreams due to the medication? Will you be able to carry out the plans you have made for the upcoming day? It is very tempting not to make plans because you may not be able to make it on the day. You might worry as I did about making it to your own birthday party. How do you explain that you are not up to it and your friends should carry on without you? Do you invite other sufferers to such occasions, even if you doubt whether they will make it? You might be stigmatising them either way.

Apart from the trouble of waking up in a difficult mood, there is sometimes the thing called rapid mood swings, where your mood can switch suddenly several times in a day for no apparent reason. Even worse is the mixed state, where you can experience up and down moods at the same time. You might start a day quite well and suddenly be unable to function. The reverse can happen when you start a day down and suddenly be fine for no reason. The danger here is that you make plans based on the morning mood. The afternoon mood maybe better or worse but you have already made the plans. It makes you seem very unreliable.

A lot of time is spent on self management, keeping well if you like. When any kind of extreme mood is experienced, we do our best to handle it. It is relatively easy to handle the upswings if you can spot them in the first place. I think that having years of experience gives you the insight to spot and handle the swings. This is best done at the early hypomania stage. When you hit full blown mania, you have pretty well lost control and you are away with the fairies. Depression or depressive episodes are notoriously hard to handle. Everything can seem so hopeless and it is hard to carry out a plan. I have not suffered much from depression and I can’t say whether insight improves. I can’t say if it gets any easier to handle. I defer to others who suffer more depression.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Being Bipolar Part Two – Social Isolation

Social Isolation is probably one of the worst things about living as a “stable” Bipolar sufferer. I am talking about someone whose meds do the job and they have good self management skills. They just want to get on with their life. It is well known that most bipolars will not return to their chosen career. Most of them will find it hard to get any employment. I know this from my own situation. I feel like I was on the scrap heap at 57.

The bottom line is that many bipolars have a lot of time on their hands. Some find meaningful volunteering opportunities. Some have access to resource cafes or drop-in centres. Some spend their time on social networking sites. Some will write or blog. Most activities seem to be ways of killing time.

My perspective is as someone who lives alone. I sometimes go for several days without seeing another person. Sometimes the only person I see is the supermarket checkout lady. I am socially isolated. I can’t blame this on the illness but it certainly reinforces it. I value my weekly Slimming World group. I try hard to make it every week because it one “normal” activity in my life. I was never good at socialisation, even in the years before I was labelled as bipolar. When I was married, it was not so much of a problem. That smacks of codependancy. I have been separated for about 10 years and I am back to living alone. I always relied on my workplaces for my socialisation. In the last ten years, I have hardly worked.

I tend to isolate myself. I am not sure whether it is connected with being bipolar. There might be a subconscious desire not to make new friends. The illness has cost me so many friendships. I got tired of explaining and apologising. It might seem convenient to avoid building new relationships.

I don’t reach out to friends. I don’t even reach out to on-line friends who I have never met face-to-face. That is something I have to work on. I seem to have acquaintances rather than friends. I see a friend as someone you meet occasionally, maybe for a pint or a coffee. A friend will come round to visit, call on the phone or join you for a restaurant meal. I have lots of “friends” on Facebook or Twitter. I would class most of them as acquaintances. 99% of them are too far away for socialising. I have rarely had friends as I described. It doesn’t help that I have an apparent phobia about using the phone. Don’t get me wrong. I like people and I like to be with them. It is possible that my social isolation is more to do with my personal character than it is do with being bipolar. Bipolar just adds a few more challenges to the task.

I would like to hear about other people’s perspective on social isolation. I know it is a big issue for Bipolars. My experience might be different because of my background and life experiences.

I always struggle when I am asked “What do you Like to Do?”. People will suggest that I join a club or something. Maybe I am boring, but I am rarely interested in what is on offer. I am very good at finding excuses not to do certain things. I am so focussed on my weight loss that I avoid activities that involve eating or drinking. That cuts out a lot of social activities. I am in touch with a walking group. I have never gone with them. I have plenty of excuses. The first and valid excuse was that they walk too far. That was true but maybe not any more. I would need a lift to get to most walks. I hate relying on lifts. They usually eat in a pub after the walks. I have so many possible excuses in my head. It is not surprising I haven’t been yet. They do have social activities apart from the walking.

I always like to be open about my illness. I am realizing that it not always the best policy when joining in “normal” activities. Maybe I find it uncomfortable to explain why I don’t work. I tell myself that I have retired early. It was not really by choice and I feel uncomfortable with it. It might be easier now I am sixty and holding Senior Railcard !!

I know that I have to get out more. Making friends might happen from that. I have to use my free bus pass for fun rather than attending appointments. I can now get reduced rail fares. I can swim for free once I get a card. I have started to keep a weekly schedule and I have bought a desk diary. They are helping a lot. I now need to schedule some fun stuff and stick to it.

I guess that I saying that my social isolation was always there. Being Bipolar has added to the mix and created some more challenges. I think I have rambled on enough for one blog.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Being Bipolar Part One

I'm sorry I haven't blogged much lately. I started blogging just over a year ago. I had the possible advantage of being slightly hypomanic at the time. In my book, I chronicled my life as affected by being Bipolar. I talked more about the extreme behaviour. Whenever I hear a sufferer talking about bipolar, they are always encouraged to describe the more extreme behaviours because it sexier somehow. Maybe it might sell more newspapers or magazines, or maybe get more listeners and viewers. I think it is more important to talk about the day to day struggle of sufferers, the search for hope, the search for wellness, stability and recovery. Recovery is the Holy Grail of the Mental Health system. Why does no one talk about it? Recovery is good for sufferers and reduces the burden on Health Services. Doctors seem to focus on stability but it is rare for anyone to monitor the road to recovery. You can't just stamp someone as "stable" and let them wander off into society. They will have issues such as getting back to work (if they are very lucky), combatting social isolation and living with the stigma of being mentally ill. Services such as resource cafes or drop-in centres are encouraged to offer a temporary place to go. There are few, if any, places to go once they are more "stable". I hope to talk more about the struggles of "stable" sufferers and my personal struggle to recovery.