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Annie Storkey

Unsettled

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 29 Oct 2021, 16:50

Like many people with bipolar disorder, I have a problem with anxiety. Stress is a major trigger for bipolar disorder and my main method of controlling my stress, and consequent anxiety, is to meticulously plan my life. I don’t like surprises and I try to limit my exposure to them. Friends know not to turn up randomly on my doorstep and I plan my work diary efficiently with achievable goals. And this all has a positive effect on my working life as it means I am able to meet deadlines and have the time and space to manage any extra issues that crop up; phoning worried students, covering for colleagues, etc. I live a very organised life.

But it does mean sudden, unplanned changes to my routine make me anxious. Perhaps in some ways the method I use to combat anxiety can also cause it and today is a fine example.

We’ve been planning to get a new drive for several months but pinning builders down has been difficult. But suddenly we had an offer to do it today so we snapped it up.

Today I had planned to spend the whole day working (I work part time). I would spend the morning doing admin, sending weekly emails to my students, planning a tutorial, updating forums. This afternoon I would do marking. This was all in my diary. But my day has been unsettled and I cannot get my head around my work. The builders aren’t that noisy, I’ve heard far worse. But they seem to insist on the occasional social interaction which involves discussion which I don’t necessarily know the answers to (and numerous requests for tea). They also keep telling me things which they say my husband agreed but I am not so sure. To make matters worse, they cut through the internet cable first thing (I am currently borrowing the neighbour’s wifi, with their permission) so I have no landline and no way of phoning my husband, who has since reassured me via email that he will try to work from home this afternoon. But I need to feel settled to work properly and at present I am on edge. I know there’s no point in marking this afternoon.

My usual daily routine involves an afternoon walk and that would do my mind the world of good but I don’t want to go outside and speak to the builders. I suppose I could sneak out the back but what if they need me for something while I’m gone? More anxieties raise their ugly head.

The marking will get done this evening when the builders are gone, the world is quieter and all is well again. But I do know the next time we have builders that I’m going to plan to spend the day at a museum or gallery instead.

Annie


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Annie Storkey

Cloudy with sunny intervals

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Edited by Annie Storkey, Friday, 12 Jun 2020, 12:13

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog for some time now, partly prompted by the debates about equity and diversity in education studied in my recently completed Masters. It was always clear to me what my main focus would be as it is a subject close to my heart. But my personal knowledge of the field also meant that I needed time to think about my approach, as it is a subject that makes some people uncomfortable.

An example of this would be at a recent seminar when we were asked to find out more about our neighbour. I enthusiastically discussed my disability, my management of it and my passion to be an advocate for others like me who were less able to have a voice. By being open and frank about my experience I could empower others to speak out and remove the stigma associated with it. But when we fed back to the main group, my new friend did not name my disability, it was my ‘sensitive issue’. And this has been my experience on many occasions, no matter how frank and open I am and the permissions I give to discuss my disability, others are still reluctant to call it for what it is. It is a ‘personal difficulty’ or a ‘time of difficulty’. I’m sure you’ve guessed what I am referring to, it is my mental illness; I have bipolar disorder.

It is hard for someone who has never experienced mental illness to imagine what it is like and the unknown can create fear or misunderstandings or incomprehension. Likewise empathetic people don’t want to say the wrong thing, to offend or upset someone. Or fear they might breach a confidence (something perhaps we are even more sensitive to in my own field of health and social care). And these are all valid explanations. But they are also the reason that I want to be open about who I am, so that others can have an insight into what life is like with bipolar disorder and to encourage other manic depressives to speak out.

Culture and upbringing have a big influence here. I was brought up in a working class family where disability was visible and cared for within the family. My mother had poor mobility and my twin brother was born partially sighted and attended a school for the blind. My happy childhood memories are of visually impaired children charging around on horseback. I grew up with a very positive perspective on disability, and especially visual impairment, which eventually led me into specialising in ophthalmic nursing (where patients would comment on my very natural and relaxed approach to guiding). When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was supporting newly registered blind and partially sighted people to come to terms with their blindness so had a practical knowledge of identity and disability.

But not everyone feels this way or has these experiences. In the summer I attended a Christian festival with a reputation for inclusivity. The Sunday morning communion was entirely presented by disabled people and was a joyful experience for me. But when I turned to a close friend and asked him what he thought about it, I was amazed to hear him say that he found it very negative. Momentarily shocked into silence (which doesn’t happen often) I asked why and found he was sad that so many people had to live with these problems. In K213 Health and illness we look at the research of Blaxter (2010) into lay people’s understandings of health and illness and his responses are similar to how she found other highly educated, well off young men view health, focussing on absence of disease and physical fitness.

Our culture and experiences construct our perspectives so divergence of opinion is to be expected. If attitudes towards mental illness are to change there needs to be a cultural shift away from stigma, shame and silence. I want to use my voice to embolden others to share their stories so that there is a wider understanding of the lives of those with mental illness. As an Associate Lecturer I particular want students’ voices to be heard so that we can have a greater understanding of their needs and facilitate them in a way which maximises their potential, and next year I hope to start doctorate study to research into the experience of distance education in those with mental illness. By looking at how it experienced now I hope to develop an understanding of how education should be delivered in the future.

Annie

(The discussions in this blog are my personal opinions and not necessarily the views of The Open University. I’m a reflective practitioner so they might not necessarily stay my opinions either smile )


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