Just lately I have been thinking about patterns and cycles and actually I have been thinking a lot about blogging and journaling too.
As an avid blogger the whole subject of blogs and journals interest me and because of the way my mind works I am also fascinated by patterns etc.
I don’t think you have to be around the whole mental health arena very long before you run into such words as ‘patterns’ and ‘cycles’. Although admittedly how frequently you do so can in many ways be dependant upon which particular mental illness your experience is related to. Especially when it comes to ‘cycling’.
In respect of bipolar disorder terms such as cycling, rapid cycling, or even manic cycles, are quite common place as a result of the nature of the illness. Indeed the ‘cycles’ themselves in this illness relate to the patterns of symptom variance experienced within a recognized time-frame.
Rapid cycling in respect of bipolar disorder for example, is widely recognized as being a patter of four or more episode of mania or depression within one year. I personally am not comfortable with that definition but that is irrelevant.
Of course words such as ‘patterns’ and ‘cycles’ are not exclusive to mental health or bipolar disorder and indeed a common place within our everyday language because patterns and cycles exist in our everyday lives regardless of mental illness.
Likewise patterns and cycles which are not so clearly defined can be present within the lives of a person with mental illness and can, if not observed and responded to, cause serious hinderance or harm to that person’s well-being.
One such area where this is potentially very significant is in respect of medication.
Many years back, long before I became physically ill and could no longer work I was involved in full-time Christian ministry within the social care sector. This work called into direct contact with several different client-groups including folk who had mental-health related needs.
Of course, for reasons I probably don’t have to go into at this point, I was keeping my own personal struggles with poor mental health very much under wraps in those days and indeed was not under the care of a doctor for it or taking any medication.
This often brought me into conflict as time and time again I would be put in situation where I would have to encourage even cajole clients to take their medication, emphasising how important it was when all the time I wasn’t taking any myself.
The truth is that this conflict was very hard for me to live with. But the fear that I would no longer be accepted as credible or trustworthy by my colleagues within my own organisation and indeed within other linked organisations once my own mental illness became known, was just too great to take the risk.
But the more I worked alongside those clients with mental-health related difficulties and who were so poor it seemed at taking their meds – and especially, it has to be said, those clients suffering with schizophrenia – the more I started noticing a pattern common to so many of them.
When they were taking their medication properly most, if not all, of the symptoms of their illness disappeared or became negligible. Hardly surprising considering that is the purpose of the medication in the first place.
But for the patient, the client who was taking that medication there would develop an unhealthy mindset as follows.
“I take medication because of my voices or because of my symptoms, but I no longer have those symptoms so I no longer need to take my medication.”
And of course the inevitable would happen once they had stopped taking their medication for a few days and thus they would within weeks be back at their doctor explaining how they had thought that they had gotten better but how their symptoms were now back and so they needed to go back on meds again.
For a number of patients this became a repetitive pattern and one that was extremely dangerous. Especially considering that very often it can take a while for a medication to start working again once it had been stopped for any length of time.
One of the difficulties is, I believe, that many of us have grown up in a responsive culture when it come to medication. Taking it only when we see a tangible sign of a need for it and seeing medication as something that we take in order to cure rather than to manage an illness or condition.
For me personally my own circumstances have changed since those days. Years back, my physical health deteriorated so badly and at the same time a couple of extremely difficult life events took place and all this culminated in my not only having a complete physical and mental breakdown but my being told that I would, as a result primarily of my physical health, but also due to my mental health, never work again.
It was in many ways a devastating blow. But to be honest with you, at that time I was more focused on trying to survive what was happening to me than I was about earning a living.
I had already lost the ability to work and subsequently had given up my work and with it I had lost the reason (and actually the ability) to hide my own mental health difficulties.
Of course thankfully I am much better now than I was when my whole life crashed around me. I am blessed by having many good days along with the lets just say harder days. But even so, and even with my own knowledge and experience of the potential patterns and pitfalls when it comes poor medication management I still sadly struggle to take my medication properly. Partly as a result of memory issues, partly as a result of focusing issues, partly as a result of the fact that I am quite rebellious and I have to say partly because I am still convinced that I can manage better with it.
Noticing our behaviors and resultant patterns can be a very useful tool in the management of our illnesses and I think for me that is one of the best things about journaling or indeed keeping a journaling aspect to blogs.
It affords us the ability – if we regularly review our own journals and blogs – to look for or to notice patterns. That is also, I am convinced, one of the benefits of sharing blogs, because sometimes we can see in other people’s stuff the things that we fail to notice in our own and because of that even the most mundane or ordinary of blog posts can serve a purpose.