Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Progression or Regression? Part Two

The situation with Mr Mans health continues to be confusing for me.

His Table Tennis nights had dwindled down to once a week towards the end of the summer, but now that the season has started again he’s back to playing four times a week. Despite playing more often, the anxiety he experiences before he goes out seems to be getting worse instead of better, even on practice nights. But once he gets there and starts playing he seems completely fine, unless he is just doing an amazingly good job of hiding it, like he did at the wedding the other week.

When I went to pick him up last night he was chatting away to other players, and you could almost forget there was anything wrong with him at all. But once we returned home he kept telling me how unwell he was feeling and he even reverted to banging his head repeatedly on the wall – something he hasn’t done since the last time he was admitted into hospital in 2003.

When I think about it, he hasn’t composed any music for a few days now, and he’s nearly set fire to the kitchen twice recently, so I suspect he is struggling with concentration at the moment. Until recently he was coping quite well with cooking – something he has been doing more of since the worsening of my own health this time last year.

I get it so wrong sometimes when I’m looking after Mr Man, even after all this time, probably because the level of what he can cope with keeps changing. It’s so confusing. Also, it’s hard not to react to a situation sometimes. After hearing him banging his head repeatedly, I went into the kitchen to give him a cuddle and some reassurance. However, when I walked into the room he was just sitting there in the chair whilst the chip pan oil was burning and filling the room with smoke. “What on earth are you doing?” I shrieked. “I’m just waiting for the oil to cool down” he replied. “But the gas is on underneath! It’s burning! Look at the smoke! Can’t you see it’s burning?

I should have thought more rationally about the situation before I freaked out the way I did. My reaction only made him feel worse. It’s never a good idea to freak out at someone suffering from psychosis; it only adds to their anxiety and confusion. He has enough going on in his mind as it is. If I had thought about it calmly I would have quickly concluded that he obviously wasn’t feeling well and shouldn’t even have been attempting to cook food. He’s never done anything like this before; he usually knows which gas setting to use so he obviously wasn’t thinking clearly. I should have just switched the gas off and given him his cuddle. Why did I even think he would be well enough to cook food after he had told me he didn’t feel well?

The confusion psychosis causes can be frightening and disorienting, like thick plumes of smoke.

"She Shouts" by Philippa King

So the question “Progression or Regression?” should really be aimed at me. Am I progressing or regressing in my role as carer (or even wife)?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Progression or Regression?

Sometimes I just can’t tell.

Mr Man keeps a lot of how he feels to himself. Often I have to rely on visible “signs” of symptom fluctuation, such as pacing the floor and looking out of the window a lot, and then I ask him specific questions. Occasionally he makes the statement: “I don’t feel very well” without prompting, but he doesn’t elaborate on what that means without very specific questions. Simply asking “In what way?” produces the response “All ways”. I have to actually ask: “Are the voices worse?” and he’ll nod to confirm that they are.

Mr Man appears to be coping very well at the moment. He’s been keeping himself incredibly busy in his studio, either by composing music, writing computer programs or designing websites. This is obviously a good thing and shows that his level of concentration has improved dramatically.

Also, he actually came to a wedding with me at the weekend, and I was amazed at how well he coped. In the past he would have been throwing up, shaking, sweating, and looking extremely pale, but although I know he was feeling anxious he controlled it very well and showed no visible signs of it. We were both relieved to find that it was a relatively small occasion, but we didn’t stay for the whole evening; the ceremony, the meal, and the speeches were more than enough for Mr Man. Once we stood up to leave Mr Man couldn’t get out of the building quick enough and I found myself chasing after him!

But besides the expected worsening of symptoms since the wedding, there have been other little things that make me wonder if Mr Man is doing as well as it appears.

Recently he’s taken to sitting on the front doorstep. Initially I thought this was a step forwards as he’s usually anxious about being outside where “the voices can see him”. But then I realised this was merely an extension of looking out of the window, which he does because he believes people are watching the house. I asked him one day if he was getting some air, but he told me he was “just keeping an eye on things”.

"The Threshold" by Philippa King

Also, although I’m glad that he has been keeping himself busy and distracted in his studio, this also means that he is neglecting himself more than usual. After sleeping a lot myself the other day, I woke in the evening to find that he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all day.

I was amazed to find that he had actually washed his own hair last week, and again, this would appear to indicate progress. He said it was because he didn’t want to wake me, but I suspect it was because he was trying to escape the anxiety of being forced to have a bath. He didn’t escape it though; I made him have a bath before the wedding. But there’s something about bathing that makes him revert back to something resembling the man I cared for before his first hospital admission. He suddenly becomes withdrawn and depressed, and he just sits there with his head hanging low, unwilling or unable to wash himself; I can’t tell which. He says he hates getting wet, and having a bath makes him feel “exposed”, but unfortunately it’s one of those necessary things that I have to make him do sometimes.

Generally though, I would still say he’s doing much better than previously. Although his symptoms worsened after the stress of the wedding, it wasn’t as bad as when he went to a committee meeting for his table tennis club a couple of months ago.

Mr Man seems reluctant to admit that he is improving though. I wonder if it is because subconsciously he worries that if others think he is improving then too much will be expected of him, or that he won’t be given the support that he still needs. That must be a very real fear for people recovering from mental illness, especially as so many people only seem to be able to understand “ill” or “well” and nothing in between. “In between” can be very confusing though.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

M.A.D Art Installation

If you haven’t had the opportunity to go to the M.A.D (Making a Difference) Art Installation this week, unfortunately you have missed your chance, as the last day was today.

I managed to go on Friday with my Curly Haired Friend, and it was a very moving experience.

I was quite surprised when I first arrived as I wasn’t expecting the Gallery to be so small, but there was a lot of work crammed into a very small area, and our time there seemed to absolutely fly by as there were so many fascinating pieces to see, hear, and read. I only wish that the pieces had been properly labelled to give full credit to the artists.

One piece that I could hardly tear my eyes away from was this piece with the words “The One That Got Away” written in the bottom right hand corner.

Made of tubes, to me the people looked like they were tied up in straight jackets. It reminded me of how people with mental health problems are often restricted and held back from enjoying life due to heavy medication regimes inflicted on them. Also, how restrictive it must feel to have ones freedom taken away when hospitalised against ones will, and yet without the safety of those confines “the one that got away” didn’t fair any better. It seems to be a hopeless situation for some, and it struck me that mental illness is like a straight jacket in itself. How can one break free from that?

I also found the sculptures interesting to look at and I couldn’t help but notice that all except two of them were people bowed down low, obviously indicating the crippling depression that accompanies mental illness. The only two that were looking up seemed to me to be writhing in pain.

My Curly Haired Friend, who like me, has suffered from depression, was drawn to this ladder made with barbed wire. It reminded her how impossible it feels to pull yourself up again once you have reached the bottom, as every step is full of pain.

Although the art was very good, the experience was painful. It wasn’t a celebration of art, or a celebration of those surviving mental illness, but mental illness expressed through art. I just saw and heard pain everywhere. For me, the most distressing part was one of the audio pieces; the constant mumbling and whispering was unbearable. I wanted to scream for it to stop, and I realised that this is something that Mr Man has to cope with every day.

Although upsetting, it was an experience I would recommend as it fulfilled its purpose of giving insight into the torture of mental illness.

My apologies for not being able to give credit to the relevant artists.

Other exhibitions

The “Frame of Mind” Art Exhibition will be displaying artwork of people managing a serious mental illness or brain disorder. It will be held on Monday 22nd October - Sunday 4th November 2007 at Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. Wycombe Swan Art Gallery is situated in the Circle Foyer. Click here for directions.

“Mental Image” is an international open art exhibition exploring mental health hosted by Project Ability. Selected work will be exhibited in Project Ability’s two galleries, located in the centre of Glasgow, from Monday 8th October – Friday 23rd November 2007.
Click here for location and more information.