Sunday, August 30


Day 8, and I'm back in the game!

Okay, so it took six days to get my body used to the reduction of Venlafaxine but I feel fine now, so am very pleased that I stuck with it through all the unpleasant sweating, shitting and shivering. It has also given me hope that one day I might be able to be free of this drug entirely, and emerge relatively unscathed out of the other side.

Now I'm not naive enough to believe that there is a cure for my... condition (but wouldn't it be wonderful if I could erase it with some sort of Victorian wonder-tonic?!) but I do feel that I have recovered quite well over the last few years. I am certainly better than I was.

Years ago I was so desperate to be better that I made myself sicker. I woke up every day with the dogged optimism of a child on Christmas morning. Oh please, let today be the day I feel better, I said to myself. I don't know what I was expecting, rainbows and fairy dust, perhaps? All I know now if that this unrealistic expectation of my own ability to let my mind heal itself at it's own pace was preventing me from making any progress with the recovery I so craved. There is no sudden cure. There is no quick fix. It's long and it's tough and it gets worse before it gets better. The day I stopped expecting to feel better IMMEDIATELY was the day I started to recover.

The future looms large, promising unknown ups and downs. There's a very good chance I could relapse and become unwell again. I have just had to accept this as fact and try to carve myself a life that can deal with these issues as they occur.

But it is the confidence of a mental health recovery veteran that I can say that I feel better right now than I have in years.

Thursday, August 27

Day 5

Okay, good news. I slept for a full 7 hours last night and didn't wake up groggy from nightmares about demon children or inescapable cinemas. Nausea is all gone, and seems to have taken my appetite with it. No brain zaps - yet!

*fingers crossed* It is getting better.

Wednesday, August 26

Day 4

Nausea. Nausea. Nausea.

I feel SO sick. I am also having nightmare brain zaps.

Not giving up though, oh no.

Tuesday, August 25


So I'm on Day 3 of the lowered dose and I'm not dead or wishing I was. However my body is definitely asking me 'what the fuck?' and rebelling in a series of irritating ways. The symptom I wasn't expecting is the itching. Last night I was up until about 3am scratching myself raw, and woke to see several long welts where my nails had raked my skin in my sleep. Otherwise I just feel slightly... menopausal. The slightest physical activity provokes hot flushes, migraine-like headaches and overwhelming spells of lethargy.

I refuse to give in, and am persevering with the reduction with a dogged determination. I just wish I felt a little less... sweaty.

Saturday, August 22

Not so manic now...

Had a bit of a lightbulb moment this week, it's still sinking in and I'm not really sure how I feel about it. I had an appointment with a psychiatrist at St Ann's hospital in Tottenham to discuss some of the side-effects of the medication I have been taking and to review my 'condition'.

Since I was a child I've had some instability with mood, my mother picked that up in the first five years of my life. I once refused to speak for a week because a girl at school had died of cancer, and had to be sent out of the room when the news came on because it would send me into a depression. At school I was lively and misbehaved to the point of being accused of suffering from hyperactivity. When I was good I was very, very good, and when I was bad I was horrid. I could be funny and withdrawn within the space of a few hours. I became used to people claiming jocularly "Oh Gem, you're mad!" And reader, I think I started to believe them. At 19 I was nearly institutionalised for a breakdown during the uni summer hols. At 22 it happened again. And so on and so on to the present day...

It's been five years since I was diagnosed by a stony-faced Victorian psychiatrist as suffering from a 'mood disorder' which, I was later told by my GP who had my notes, was type II bipolar disorder. Okay, I thought, fine, at least it has a name now. I took the pills they prescribed me. I got on with it. But increasingly recently when I sat back and took stock of my life since that diagnosis I realised that I have: learned to drive, held down a job for over 3 years, moved to London, passed a post-graduate teaching course and worked as a teacher in a London secondary school. So, as you can imagine, doubts had begun creeping into my mind as to the legitimacy of this diagnosis. This is not meant in any way to disrespect people who suffer from bipolar disorder and have successful and fulfilling lives, I am sure it IS possible, but since the diagnosis I have not had any episodes of depression or heightened mood that were severe or debilitating enough to affect my career or relationships. I have felt down, and I have felt a bit manic, but I have managed to get a grip on my mood and get myself back out there within a few days. I'm not so sure that if I was suffering with bipolar disorder this would be so easy, or even possible. And I think that sufferers of BPD would agree.

So it was this week that I found myself spending an hour in consultation with the psychiatrist, discussing my adventures with my good friends excitement and depression right back from as early as I can remember. Together we read all the notes from reported counselling and psychiatric diagnostic sessions. And at last I heard somebody utter the words I have been thinking over and over for the last three years: "I don't think you have bipolar disorder at all. A mood disorder, yes. Slight instability, yes. But not bipolar."

I will still need to use antidepressants in the near future, but at a reduced dose to help with the side-effect problem. I have been referred for cognitive behavioural therapy to help me cope with the mood swings. In the future there is a distant possibility that I might be able to come off medication completely. I don't know how I feel about that yet.

The only times I have been off antidepressants in the last ten years is when the b.a.d. things have happened. What if they happen again? What if the life that I have spent so long getting back is pulled away from underneath my feet, thrusting me back, head-first into the seemingly endless pit of misery and despair? I need to move forwards. I can't stay as I am. But I am very, very afraid of going backwards.

I've been off and on about 6 different types of anti-depressants since I was 16, but have been taking 150mg of Effexor (Venlafaxine) for the last five or so years. The side-effects are varied and unpleasant and the drug gets a very bad press on the internet with sites like this. I tend not to diss it too much because I've been relatively happy and sane whilst on it. Tomorrow I will take my first reduced-dose tablet at 75mg. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I'm HOPING that it just makes me feel a bit sick, or fluey. I don't know how I'll cope if it makes me confused or depressed.

Should I be happy? I guess so. I wept for joy on the way home, but that quickly gave way to fear and trepidation at the road ahead. I don't feel funny and I don't feel brave. I feel shit scared and isolated. It's a bit lonely out here, in the non-bipolar world.

Sunday, August 16

Greetings from The Edge


I'm currently enjoying a few days in the Fens with my folks. One of the first things I did when I got back was to check my local newspaper, The Fenland Citizen.

What did they expect, giving the ghosts their very own passage, and all?

Stunned by the fact that the paper is 95% free. Who is paying for it, and how?

You can always rely on this paper to provide up-to-the-minute news on the most important stories occurring here below sea-level. My favourite columnist is Ian Watson, a man with a potato face who seems to have his finger on a rather retrospective pulse.

This is one of his columns from February this year. As you can see, he has just discovered The Wonder of the Internet. I love his wide-eyed innocence. It's quite sweet, really.

Friday, August 14

Nick Ferrari am a dikk

I can just about stand the fact that Nick Ferrari walks freely upon this earth. Sometimes, if the mood takes me, I can tolerate his show on LBC. However, recently he fucked with MY industry with a show that contained approx 10% fact and 90% unsupported, bigoted views.

This is the show's blog report on the subject that made my blood boil:

"Children for whom English is their first language are now in a minority in Inner London primary schools, putting extra pressure on education budgets. According to the latest government figures for the 13 inner London boroughs, it's risen to 54 per cent of pupils - and almost 80 in Tower Hamlets. Has this presented an issue in your child's school? Susan Gowen - a primary school worker in Putney – told Nick most youngsters learn English very quickly, but problems arise when their parents don't."


Next year, I will teach an extremely bright top set year 11 class ENGLISH, where approx 70% of the kids go home to households that communicate entirely in a second language, and guess what?! They've all got B and above in every coursework essay so far. And, to top that, 6 kids that are on track for an A* speak English as a foreign language. They are funny, bright and confident young people, and I genuinely feel privileged to work with them every day.

Would they have achieved these grades if they had been slung into some Ferrari-endorsed 'Foreigners' class, or worse, school (probably neatly packaged and labelled 'EAL Target Group' or some shit)? No. Absolutely not. We teach them in English. They talk to each other in English. They learn, because they have to. Over 50 languages are spoken by students in our school. So, if we put them all together in classes where they all spoke the same language they would not learn any of the academic, and more important, social skills that help them blossom (hopefully) into useful members of society. And they'd never learn colloquial English, despite having 'English' lessons every day. Thus providing Nick Ferrari with material to be able to conduct yet more phone-ins about 'Immigrants who don't integrate', or some other vaguely disguised racist bullshit.

Many parents don't speak English because they're at home all day or working with family members who speak the same language as them, NOT because they want to separate themselves from their local community. However, they usually bring a translator to parents evenings and meetings with them, so it's actually very rarely a problem at all for us or their kids. Our school also offers cheap evening classes to parents who want to improve their English.

Last year we had a few new EAL female students arrive into Year 10 from Iraq, two preferred to be placed in the EAL induction class and one chose to enter mainstream classes. Guess which student/s has better grades and more friends? When she first entered my class she was silent, but I could see her watching and watching everything that was happening and by the second term she was contributing and completing all her work in every lesson. This particular class only had three students for whom English was their native language. So did I feel 'overworked' from the 'pressure' of working with these kids? Did I buggery! And any teacher that does, in my opinion, has an unrealistic view of teaching in inner city schools today. Bugger off to some rural church school or something, and have it your way.

How can a school become a community if it is segregated on the basis of language? NUR Nick Ferrari, you am a dikk.

P.S. I have excel spreadsheets to back all this up. Yes, SPREADSHEETS!

Sunday, August 9

Sadness be gone!

We've had a couple of rubbish weeks haven't we? We didn't win the cricket, celebrities keep dying every five minutes and we might all die of swine flu before Christmas.

So I am going to share with you some things that I think are funny. These always make me laugh, even when I am considering my impending death.

"Limpy's got cancer!"

"... King's Lynn"

"Awww, yeah!"

Now you feel better, don't you?

Friday, August 7

New hair for the holidays!

I have time to look almost human in the summer holidays:

I only have 3 more weeks to enjoy it before I become a grey-faced harridan again.

Where has my hair gone?! Answers on a postcard please to 'Where's Gem's Hair?' Competition, PO BOX 63, BBC Pebble Mill, BIRMINGHAM, West Midlands, B5 7QQ.

Do Google searches and that...