Victory Part One

[Written 20th June 2015]

Victory is mine blog post

Okay that’s not going to be my title, way too grand and pompous for my usual style. But today was a victory and I want to talk about.

I was meant to restart work sometime last week. It was always a vague plan of sometime after the Queen’s birthday public holiday. From the time I took back my authorization to get a police check and stat dec to say that I wasn’t an awful criminal the suggestion was it would take the HR department about two weeks to prepare the contracts. Oh, and by the way, the hospital executive have just put a halt on recruitment until the end of the financial year! We may sneak in, we may not.

So it didn’t happen last week, and it wasn’t looking super likely for this week either. So my plan? Bike ride as much as possible until I go back to work! It is still amazing to me that I, in the dead of winter, in shall we say frigid conditions with rain and bleak outlooks and low teens temperatures, would be keen to get out there and get cold and exert effort! Crazy! Yet it turns out that my week is built around it! I would NEVER have thought that this would actually come to be in my life!

I mean, yeah, they said exercise was good for you and helped your mood and did wonders. I got started at the gym after moving back to Melbourne when I was beginning to put on weight in a vain attempt to keep that at bay. I did enjoy the classes, another women’s only special, and afterwards I loved that I’d been able to do it. My post-gym face made it into a couple of my ‘100 happy days’ posts. I made an effort to get to my classes after work, which was a tight squeeze, and then when I wasn’t working anymore I tried to get there and do the solos workouts my friendly coach had designed for me. But the cardio stuff sucked! I’ve always been good at weights and they are my preference. But right then, with the weight I’d put on and as the sedation overcame me, cardio was just a punishment! So I put the gym on hold, and it stayed there. My psychiatrist agreed that I shouldn’t be pushing myself with the gym and suggested walking each day.

Walking. Okay, seriously! I have a green, leafy park that I can get to, walking, in less than two minutes. It’s one of the awesome conveniences of where I live. Theoretically. There’s a beautiful walking loop made from perfectly poured, on camber concrete with an inner spongy lane perfect for running. It has marked distances and revolves around a pretty little lake with ducks and a foot bridge, a community exercise area always in use and a children’s playground. Perfect.

Two minutes to the park. Five minutes to the hospital, twelves minutes to the train station and supermarket. That’s my house.

But I don’t like walking anymore!

I used to walk up hill to the train station to get to work every day, from October 2013 to March 2014, and I just did it without thinking. Then I walked around the hospital all day often clocking up half my daily step count and a couple of kilometres. I’d often take a walk for 20 minutes under the Moreton Bay fig trees to chill out at lunchtime which was lovely, travelling from Commercial Road to Toorak Road and back, then walk back down the hill again to get home. My Fitbit got to 10,000 steps every single day and often quite a bit more. I was doing great physically and was in the shape of the last 10 years! I’d just spent more than 18 months up to August 2013 exercising and dieting my way to 78kg which was a 15kg effort that I was very proud of, and got me within a few kilos of my ideal weight! So I was enjoying my hard work.

But as I got sicker, my motivation and energy flagged and I started putting on some weight, and that morning uphill walk was taking me longer and was getting harder. I started to dread it! My breathing was way harder than before, my heart felt like it was about to hit the absolute red line or die altogether, my legs rubbed and chafed and turned to jelly mush, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Besides I had to conserve energy; I had the whole day still ahead of me!! I didn’t want to walk; I wanted to catch the bus. Once I did, there was no turning back. I would wait 15 minutes at the bus stop for a 7 minute bus ride that was full to overflowing where I sweated up a storm in the crush of body heat, rather than walk 10 minutes home, even though it was downhill. At that point, it didn’t matter whether it was uphill, downhill or neutral; I hated it!

I’m working on this. I wear shorts or leggings, I take my time, I breathe it out, I remember that my heart is actually a surprisingly resilient muscle and no one has ever yet died from it jumping through their throat into the open air and flying away! That last one is difficult and takes a lot of mantra-like chanting inside my brain! I will not die, I will not die, and I will not die.

We did an impromptu walk with friends a couple of months back. It was described as an easy walk, but that was their opinion not mine. They set a cracking pace over difficult terrain and I wished I was dead! Halfway through the caring mother figure asked me quite seriously if I was going to have a heart attack!! I was so red in the face I probably looked like I would in fact explode, I was dripping sweat, my feet and legs hurt…la, la, la; it wasn’t that much fun, apart from the scenery.

Cue the bicycle. It came to me, I now realise, at the perfect moment in my journey. I’d seen an ad for She Rides earlier and instantly dismissed it. The fact that when it came back around on Facebook, or email, or something else, I actually considered it, showed that I was in a place in my recovery where I was starting to open my very closed mind to the idea and possibility that starting gently into some exercise could really be something I could a) do, and b) maybe, somehow, I don’t know but people assure me I could, actually enjoy! So I tentatively put out some feelers. I’m not a committing person! I have to do a lot of thought before I jump in, and even then it’s more of a slow trip and fall that accidentally turns into a jump!

Ask my husband: we went out for 7 years before I “jumped” in! At least we got through the whole itch thing first. In that last year when it was blindingly apparent that of course we’d be together forever, and no sinister cosmic plan was floating through the universe waiting to hit us with its deadly and devastating bolts, or anything along that drastic and dramatic plane of thought, I gave my husband a model snail. I told him please wait, I’m getting there, I’m coming; it’s just taking me a while! That’s how I am, but I’m working on it. I can impulse buy now, not that I’m sure that’s a good thing! There are shops in Shepparton where I grew up probably sick of the sight of me, coming back for the third time to try on the same pair of shoes “just to see” if they were any different from every other time! Procrastination is what it’s really called, and it has gotten the upper hand of me in a lot of my life, but I’m working hard to crush it!

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Flighty Friday

[Written 22nd June, 2015]

Okay, now I get it!

It really is a big deal.

Actually I’m a bit exhilarated!

I finally found them! Well actually a really nice guy with his twins in a pram wearing a camera found them, and came and got me so that I could see them too. Many thanks to him for that, but what I mean is I finally got to see them!

gum tree, eucalypt

Several of the Swift parrots at Macleod station

The famous Macleod Station Swift Parrots!

Otherwise named by other birders as The Great Houdini! They have certainly nailed the vanishing act on the last three times I’ve gone looking for them! But to be fair, thanks to some advice from another birder, I’ve realised that I’ve been looking for the wrong thing.

branch, acrobat

The belly of an upside down Swift parrot doing acrobatics

I’m used to rainbow lorikeets and musk lorikeets. You can tell where these birds are at all times of the day and night by the raucous racket that they make! So every time I’ve gone over the Macleod I’ve followed the noise. This has been an unfailing tactic in the past, so I went by history and experience. This did lead to a first in a lifetime sighting of a few Scaly-breasted Lorikeets mixing with the Musk and Rainbow Lorikeets, but no Swift Parrots.

pink flowering gum, musk lorikeet

Just for variety, one of the Musk Lorikeets, the noisy ones!

So today was my ‘4th time is the charm’ visit! The plan: walk quietly around the station looking up into the eucalypt trees for sight of birds, rather than listening for their sound. And it was the perfect plan. Even without the kind gentleman I would have come across them, but sharing it with someone else was nice. The excitement and satisfaction is better shared, otherwise random shrieks of joy and jumping up and down clenching fists frightens nearby innocent strangers and inspires parents to gather their children and retreat to a safe distance!

colours

So many different colours! It’s hard to take it all in!

So, the Swift Parrot. This flock is estimated to be up to 30 birds, so I’ve heard. The word has spread like wildfire among birders around the country, and people have traveled serious distances to see these gorgeous creatures. Most days I see people posting photos to Facebook of their experience with finding these quiet, well camouflaged birds. And the sightings have been very reliable every day for several weeks. And now I’m a part of it!

climbing, food

This Swift parrot climbing up the tree for more food

Why are we so excited and motivated to see those beauties? Well for a start they are just stunning! Pretty colours, graceful flight, acrobatic climbers and most significantly, they are endangered. These parrots breed only in Tasmania in the summer; during those months they can only be found in that state which is their home territory and the location of their nests in hollow trees. They migrate to south-eastern Australia, i.e. Victoria and maybe southern NSW, in the winter. They are considered nearly extinct in SA. Year old birds who won’t be breeding sometimes stay here for the summer while the majority of the population head back to Tassie.[1]

magazine, celebrity

I feel like I’ve met a celebrity in the Swift Parrot! I might never see them again, and here they are on the cover of Birdlife’s quarterly magazine!

So they’re endangered, only here in the winter and they’ve set up shop right here in the city, in the square between a strip of shops, a kindergarten, a school and a train station of all things! Not exactly the distant, peaceful, undisturbed bush/forest that you would imagine.

Noisy Miner, power struggle

The annoying Noisy Miners trying to shoo off the Swift Parrots…eventually they won, for now

Which gives me an opportunity to grind one of my favourite axes!

I take issue with people favouring the country to the exclusion of the city.

hello

Well Hello there! Nice to see you

Of course you all have the right to your own opinion. And to be clear, I grew up in the country, moved to the city when I was eighteen to study instead of moving to another country city, moved back to the country for a job when I was twenty two because my city option fell through, and moved back to the city because trying to live in the country was killing us when I was twenty six.

pretty

Just so pretty from every angle!!

I love the country. It really feeds me to find some green spaces. I love the city; my life is there and I love the energy and opportunities.

I don’t understand having a total block opinion of the city. It’s the greatest variety of types and cultures and one opinion can’t apply as a blanket. My husband came from the city, my pharmacist education came from the city, some of the best days of my life have been in the city. Of course growing up in the country was something I loved too.

territory wars, back off

Territory wars are rife around Macleod, Noisy Miners vs. anything else! This Swfit parrot is telling Noisy to back off!

Having a narrow view of those “city people” and “city drivers” is not well thought out. Most “city people” don’t live in the city, as in the CBD. Not many people live in the actual city. We live in suburbs of the city, just like you live in suburbs of country; there is pretty much no difference between where I live and you live in most cases.

The majority of “country people” and “country drivers” don’t live in the country, as in open plains and wide spaces. Not many people live in the actual country. And as above, suburbs vs suburbs.

flock, quiet

A flock of Swift Parrots – if they sit still it’s pretty easy to miss them!

Those in the CBD and those out in the open country can debate the issue, but most people forget that for the rest of us, we’re actually living more or less the same life whether we’re in a town or city.

I can find undisturbed bush land where you can’t hear any traffic and feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere within a 10 minute drive or bike ride from my house in the middle eastern suburbs. Once there you would have no idea that there’s a freeway just the other side, that you’re surrounded by housing. And at the centre of a lot of towns you’ll find it hard to find a park, be walking past plate glass buildings and have all the fumes of the cars just like the city.

rainbow lorikeet, pink flowering gum

Can’t forget a photo of the many Rainbow Lorikeets that rule the rest of the playground at Macleod

I think it’s time we agreed everything has it’s good and poor aspects, and stop being scared of what we don’t know. You never truly know until you go and experience the other side of life. So get out there, live on the other side.

pose

Another shot in bad light so it doesn’t do this bird justice, but what a pose!

It’s always pros and cons. If you didn’t have the city, you couldn’t live the life you enjoy. Without the country, you wouldn’t have many essentials that make up life as we know it.

tomorrow

What a day! What an experience! I’m tempted to head back tomorrow…..

Point being, if a flock of an endangered species of bird that can migrate to anywhere they like choose the suburbs of the city instead of the country, can it really be that bad?

[1] Museum Victoria Field Guide to Victorian Fauna, free app

Tales of a missed dose

[Written 16th June 2015]

This is a story of what happens when I miss a dose of medication.

What happens depends whether I miss a morning dose or an evening dose. As I write this I’m suffering from missing an evening dose so let’s go with that.

At night I take several tablets: quetiapine, lithium, valproate, rosuvastatin, pantoprazole. Mood stabiliser, mood stabiliser, mood stabiliser, anti-cholesterol, antacid. Yes, it takes that many stabilisers to keep me going!

In the morning I take thyroxine, venlafaxine, Levlen, valproate, lithium. Thyroid hormone replacement, antidepressant, contraceptive, mood stabiliser, mood stabiliser.

All done! Hopefully...I'll still count the tablets out every morning and night to double triple check

In terms of missing a dose, lithium and valproate aren’t the worst to miss as a patient because I’ll be taking some again soon. This is not an official pharmacist, GP or psychiatrist recommendation! Lithium and valproate should ALWAYS be taken twice a day, as close as possible to 12 hours apart for the best effect! And I repeat! This is because for lithium a healthy person’s kidneys clear it out of you in that time frame so to keep a steady level you should take it consistently. And for valproate it’s your liver. That’s why you should respect these two organs very highly! They are very important. But what I’m meaning is its not the worst in terms of the adverse effect of missing a dose. If I miss taking lithium at bedtime, I take it first thing the next morning which gets it back in my system before I physically notice that it even left. My overall level will be a bit lower for a few days which isn’t ideal, but it will work back up to speed soon enough. And I do have a level at least.

Whereas for medications that I take once a day, I’ll miss the effect for 24 hours. Which sucks. Plainly and simply!

boxes, bottles, tablets, capsules

Quetiapine is one of the once a day tablets. It is prescribed to me to prevent mood swings, reduce my anxiety and has the handy effect of giving me a good night’s sleep. It was doing this a bit too well for some months there and I was doped out all of the time, but my awesome psychiatrist recommended a change in the times I take it and we’re back up to speed. Yes!

So, do I get a mood swing if I miss one dose? No. Really not. The chemistry isn’t that reactive. In the same way that it takes weeks of first taking the medication to get the benefit, it takes longer than one day to mess up the whole thing. But I do have a rough day afterward, and a rough night too! It’s a bit like I’m sitting in my car going along nicely and I know where I am and where I’m going and how I am and suddenly another car rear ends me, or bumps into the side of my car at a right angle. Slowly of course, not fast. So my mood just takes a hit, a bump and suddenly I’ve jumped along or across and I find myself somewhere other than where I just was, a bit disorientated about how I got there and sort of catching up with what just happened and where am I now and how I am and are we still okay? That following day I may be in quite a different mood from the one before, either peppy and edgy and anxious and manic, or slow, and silent, and flat and a bit away with the fairies. But that doesn’t qualify as a mood swing, just a sudden small change that affects my day.

After missing a dose here and there I have now gotten the side effects of missing my nightly dose of quetiapine down in a pretty clear timeline. Yes, there are side effects from NOT taking your tablets, as much as taking them. Something to consider.

So here’s the quetiapine absence timeline.

strips, tablets, capsules

10 to 11pm: I can’t get to sleep.

This is a terrible thing. I need my sleep. Always have, and always will I guess, but especially since I’ve been sick. So does everyone, I realise. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep the next day is a struggle, emotionally. So I toss, and I turn, and I turn, and I toss. After an hour of this, if I’m alert enough, I’ll think to myself, self, why can’t I get to sleep? I usually go straight to sleep! Then I’ll look in my pill box, see my tablets, mentally or physically hit myself in the head, take them and all is good in the world. Just like that. If I’m not thinking too clearly, I might think to take a Valium and at least get some sleep. If I’m dull-witted, which is at least half of the time, I’ll eventually wrestle myself to sleep. It sounds funny to say, but I’ve become very good at putting myself to sleep. I nap most days from necessity, and there is a skill involved in going from activity to sleep in a short space of time. I guess shift workers eventually excel at this sort of thing. So I’m quite adept at getting myself in a comfortable position, getting the temperature right (cannot sleep well unless it is right!), darkening the room, doing a conscious relaxation of as many muscles as I can, and stilling my mind into sleep.

Say I managed that. Next time check?

3am. Yep, wide awake, fresh as a daisy, ready to go at 3am. I toss, and turn, and can’t get comfortable, and I’m restless and my poor husband is rocking and rolling every time I turn and I’m messing with his sheets, and he has to go to work tomorrow even if I don’t, so I try to lay still and physically can’t! Why am I awake, I’m usually asleep, what is happening, oh….ahhhh! Tablets! I forgot them! Duhh! I hate that moment! I try to do my utmost to prevent it, but it still happens and it does feel like a failure every time I somehow mess it up! So, should I take them now? The dilemma! It’s 7 out of 12 or 24 hours through the medication time period. So I can’t take all of them. Maybe just some of them. Can’t take quetiapine, I’ve missed the boat on that one otherwise I’ll sleep all day. And I’ll be taking lithium and valproate soon anyway, and can’t double dose. What about the rest? Which are nothing really, in the scheme of me being wide awake at 3am! Cholesterol and stomach medication. Sure I can take them, they should be taken regularly but it’s too late for my sleep. The next dilemma then: try to force myself to sleep again, or just get up, take my laptop to the spare room and do something else? Who knows? Depends what I’ve got on the next day really. I can never decide!

medication list

8am: I’ve finally given up the ghost on sleep so I’m up and peppy and full of life and only just partially anxious and ever so slightly manic and energetic and going to run the world! If I haven’t already taken one to sleep, now is the time for a Valium to wind back the jets on being super woman and achieving all my life goals in one sweet day! And talking my husband’s ear off and planning one hundred chores like a complete going through of the entire kitchen plus 3 loads of washing on a rainy day and lunch with girlfriends and all kinds of magical things. ‘Woah, says my husband, that’s too many things for today. No do that another day, you’ve got enough things for today. How about you sit down for a minute, what about some mindfulness? I think you should do some mindfulness…how about you go and do that now?’ At around about this point I have now blown my nose for literally the THIRTIETH time since waking for the final time. THIRTY. You just can’t blow you nose till it feels empty; there’s always residual. And it’s pretty much like a tap. The medical term is rhinorrhea, like diarrhea but your nose is melting and there is a constant liquid dripping, dripping, dripping!! Quetiapine dries you out like anything so you get dry mouth (and want to drink Coke all the time!), dry nose which leads to sores and blood noses, some degree of constipation which no one wants to know about and some urine retention. The last one isn’t noticeable on any other day, until the missed dose day and then I realise that yes I really have been holding back! TMI I know, but you wanted the whole story right?

But the nose thing really gets me! If I notice nothing else in the middle of the night, I do notice my nose dripping incessantly! It’s an instant giveaway! It’s different to regular waking up in the morning and blowing your nose. It’s more like hay fever without the sneezing but the medication to stop it cannot be taken til nighttime!!! Cue fierce under breath bursts of ‘idiot’!

And then it’s just getting through the day like usual, but bearing well in mind that you’re a bit high today, a bit edgy, a bit fiddly, a bit anxious, a bit overstrung so remembering to breath, relax, calm, easy, gently does it. And I should mention that the other things ease off too, just not in such an obvious diagnostic way. I have the right amount of saliva in my mouth (who knew that was a thing!) and going to the toilet is a breeze, like really easy, like maybe a bit too much and too many times! So happy thoughts!

medication box, tablets

Now the morning lot and venlafaxine. Anyone who is involved in the prescribing, dispensing, and before too long taking venlafaxine knows about the withdrawals. It’s described in the textbooks and it happens like the textbooks. Exactly like. I used to think this was pretty cool. I still do theoretically, but in practice I either love or hate that they’re so reliable and unavoidable. I love them if I notice it before I’ve left the house for a work day because I immediately fix the shortcoming. I hate them if I notice once I’m already on the way to the bus stop and I don’t have time to turn back, or I’m on the bus, on the train, on the tram, in the building. Then it sucks because I know what’s coming and I can’t do a thing about it! Unless I can get to my doctor for an emergency script but that means paying full price, and after all it’s nothing life threatening. Not bad enough to pay three times the normal price! And believe it or not borrowing stock from the shelves is not strongly encouraged by my employers nor is it in any way legal!

What the symptoms/adverse effects of missing venlafaxine are: electric shocks/tingling in your fingers, light headedness/feeling like my head is spinning/wondering if I’ll faint, nausea. Nothing fun. Nothing dangerous. They don’t make for a good day, and I have to wait til the next morning to fix it! More banging of palm to forehead and severe muttering to oneself!

So that the what. The why is a whole other adventure and I don’t have time today, but hang in there and soon we’ll have another chat and look at the other part of the problem. Chat soon!

Getting going

I want to talk about motivation.

Again.

Because we can never hear this message too many times. Because understanding motivation might just make you someone’s hero. And it might make people with motivation more thankful and grateful for it, and help them feel empathy for someone in defeat!

Motivation is a BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE, ENORMOUS, GIGANTIC barrier to people suffering from depression.

If you don’t have motivation, the days are more than a huge struggle, a grueling drag, a marathon race, a torture ground, long, hard, awful and just something you don’t want to have to force yourself through again, just because the stupid sun came up!

Sigh, groan, urgh, ahhh, really, why? Do I have to? I don’t think I can. How about later? I just need a bit more sleep. Maybe tomorrow, I’m just not up to it today. Nah I think it’ll wait til tomorrow.

Motivation is what gets us up in the morning. We’re motivated to get to work on time, eat a healthy breakfast, do well at our jobs, keep house, bring up nice, healthy children and because we have this motivation we do what it takes to get these things done. We don’t even think about motivation until we have to make an extra effort, like participate in a sporting event or study for exams. It just comes naturally.

But depression vacuums up every last inch of motivation, unplugs the dirt bag and buries it deep in the middle of a Mexican desert where you will NEVER, EVER find it EVER again.

It’s gone.

Done.

No more.

So instead of going about your business as you normally would, each and every tedious step takes your fullest energy and effort!

Getting up took all my effort, and was delayed to the last possible second or a bit longer. Showering exhausted me: stepping into the tub, standing up for that long, lifting my arms to wash myself. Getting dressed was a Herculean task! So many motions to go through!

Walking to the bus stop took so long since I was wading through thigh deep thick, sticky treacle, figuratively speaking. I slept as much as I could manage on that bus, the train, and the next bus. I grabbed a quick takeaway breakfast of the oily kind and tried to get to the morning handover on time. There were usually some missing minutes before the work day started.

sausage, egg, tomato

Breakfast of the oily kind!

From then on the aim was minimal physical effort, pure survival until morning tea break, until lunchtime, until afternoon tea, until home time. These breaks were my vital link to survival. I got to sit down, and eat. And just be by myself.

Then came the end of the day with the new aim of getting home ASAP and getting into bed and desperately trying to get enough rest for the next day. That never happened, I never felt rested enough the next morning. I started every day in a severe deprivation of rest. I had had exactly the amount of sleep I needed physically but the adrenaline racketting around my body made me feel continually at the limit and exhausted.

But do you know what? I believe that throughout that time I still operated at my usual level in my job. Nobody noticed that I was suffering badly. They didn’t notice that I was suffering at all. All throughout I made a lot of friends and collegues. My peer review rated well. My boss was very pleased with me. I knew I was doing a good job. I was a good pharmacist. My team was tight and I loved the group of pharmacists that I was in. I was keeping up appearances.

That’s what was showing on the outside, and am glad it was cos I loved that job and wanted to do my absolute best. And I feel that I did. Somehow.

All this despite all of this other stuff screaming and shrieking on the inside. Once or twice a week I went to my GP across the road and that was my outlet. There I could cry, sob, not be okay, hate my situation, complain, whinge, feel awful. And he was happy with that. In fact that’s what he wanted, that I could keep going elsewhere, even at home, but have at least that one outlet where there was no hiding, no pretending, no pushing on. Home was my other outlet, no pretence. Or so I thought. My husband says to this day that he had no idea of the extent of my illness. I guess keeping up appearances got to be a habit!

salad

Dinner I made in November 2013…must have gotten up some momentum! It wasn’t all bad news, and no wonder my hubby was fooled! Looking back at this photo, I’m fooled!

This, my friends, all of the above, is why when ANYONE ever suggests that I should “push through the barriers” or “make a bit of an effort” or “just try a bit harder”, my hackles rise, my respect for their understanding and knowledge bungee jumps off a cliff with no rope, and I from then on out try to avoid them as much as possible. Then. These days I try to educate them, but I give up quickly if I’m not making an progress. I don’t have the energy to waste.

Try a bit harder? Do you realise that I am constantly at the absolute limit of what I can physically, mentally, spiritually and everything else manage just to be here, out of bed, dressed, among other people, smiling and giving the general impression of being okay? No, of course you don’t. I know it may not look like it, or feel like it. In fact it probably looks the opposite, that I’m not doing very much at all. But to me, right now, I’m doing the very best that I’m capable of. So I smile harder and walk away.

Of course I’m talking mostly about the time before, during and after my diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. And the time following each of these when I started medication which was adjusted and added to and removed from and monitored. They were awful days. Not every day, and not all day, but in general they were just hard to get through! And they aren’t gone completely, but I have not had SUCH a bad day in many months now.

These days I’m doing better for motivation, still not back to my old high achieving self with good self care and standards of house keeping. But getting there. It has taken a LONG time to get back, about a year from when I first restarted antidepressants in December 2013 and has been greatly helped by starting lithium in May a year ago, which I still consider to be not only my life raft but the instrument of getting back to my old life. My life takes less thought, less meticulous planning and less energy and effort to conduct. I have reserves of energy that don’t get fully drained, and life is just more enjoyable because of that.

There are tricks and tips that I still have to use against myself. Making things non-negotiable by paying for a course because my inner coin counting self won’t accept waste. RSVPing to organised bike rides so everyone else is expecting me and will be let down if I don’t arrive. Making dates and times to meet people for lunch, coffee etc so that I have to go. Keeping going while I’m going, and doing just one more job, one more chore, tick one more thing off my to-do list before I sit down and don’t get up again.

bed, winter, ginger cat

Getting out of bed is harder. So I make my doctor’s appointment each fortnight at 10 or 11am so that I have to get up on time that day to get there on time, which is also non-negotiable because that GP saved my life more than once and I owe him my best effort. Any other appointments that I have I try to make in the morning also, for the same effect. Lately it has been easier because my miracle working psychiatrist, in one fell swoop, has erased all sedation and daytime drowsiness and sleepiness. So I actually wake up at the time that other adults wake up! Sometimes even earlier like 4 or 5am. And go back to sleep for a bit but often I’m wide awake by 8am or a bit earlier. So that greatly helps!

Showering. This is an issue. I don’t know why, but I just have such a hard time working myself up to getting in the shower! It’s gotten to the point of a serious aversion. My husband has to get the water running (no mean feat with our current plumbing) and frog march me in. Once I’m there its fine, not a problem at all. It’s the getting started that’s the problem. Which, in it’s essence, is what motivation is. The drive and momentum to getting things started. So there’s still a ways to go, but I have come a ways which is comforting.

Launching Place, rail trail, sign

Launching Place: sounds like a good place to start!

Beating the weather

Lately my life has been all about learning.

Learning new skills, learning that I can be the old me again, learning that old skills are still stored carefully in my brain waiting for me to dust them off again. Learning to have confidence in myself and trust in my abilities. Important stuff.

There’s a learning point that I’ve been thinking of in particular.

You never know if you never go.

You never know if you never go. This is slowly but surely becoming my new motto.

Instead of staying home just in case the weather is awful, the traffic is terrible, the people are critical, the class is long and boring, the walk is too steep and etcetera, I’m transitioning into a more cautionsly optimistic frame of mind.

Cautiously optimistic is a term coined by my GP and is used when we think we’re have a breakthrough but it could be nothing or it could come crashing down or it might stick. We’re hoping, based on not very much maybe, but we’re hoping.

So being cautiously optimistic would look like saying to myself, what if the weather is lovely, it doesn’t rain, the traffic is a breeze, they are all lovely and kind, I learn lots and the content is interesting, and I manage the walk and have the satisfaction of accomplishment? What if?

You know by now that I completed the Wheel Women-run She Rides program in Hawthorn. By the nature of bike riding the classes are held outdoors. I was happy to be enrolling in the autumn class rather than summer because I get hot easily. But of course the flip side is that autumn can get cold, and as it turns out wet. Wet was something I hadn’t really thought about beforehand but there was a lot of it around!

So every Tuesday for 8 weeks I committed to meeting the group in a car park at 10am to take the class. The classes were held over March, April and May. Other than the first class all of the classes involved some riding around of various distance. So I’d wake up on Tuesday morning and look out the window to see what the day looked like it had in store and what kind of riding conditions were out there.

I have a second storey window that looks west-ish. Probably South-West-West if I remember correctly from school, but it doesn’t really matter. The morning sun, if it is showing, bounces off the new plate glass type multi-storey construction in front of my window a ways away so I can sort of get the gist of east and west. All irrelevant detail really.

Sometimes it looked windy. Sometimes it was raining. Sometimes it looked clear. Sometimes it wasn’t rainy but looked ominous. And to be honest, sometimes it was beautiful and sunny. Somehow the story doesn’t have the same drama when things go well but of course sometimes they go well, and really well!

If I had pulled the pin every time that I thought the weather was going to mean the class was cancelled, I’d only have made about half of the classes. But there was no weather cancellation clause, the rider being that if it was truly too awful to be outside well at least we would all have coffee together and a nice morning anyway.

And you know what? In eight weeks we never got rained on once! The weather was never terrible, just a bit windy or a bit chilly. Now that winter weather has arrived the weather we had for those classes looks even better by comparison! And we had some really nice, lovely, enjoyable days too. Must mention the good days!

One time we had to move our class from the outdoors to the nearby cafe to continue talking about bike gear; but only for the last half hour anyway which may well have been spent the same way on a clear day.

One time we sat in the nearby rotunda and chatted while it dripped around us.

Every time that we went on a ride it rained before, or after, or both and a couple of times it started raining as we got into our cars to go home.

But every time we had a great class, a lovely social event and nice chatting over warm drinks and fun riding.

And the stats have gotten even better: it has now been 13 weeks since the first class and in all that time we have only cancelled one class. That’s it, one class.

We’ve sat in a cafe with our hot drinks until the rain cleared, we’ve had coffee instead of a ride once only, and last Thursday it started raining as we got in our cars!

The forecast has looked terrible, the radar has been worse but I have really learned a valuable life lesson over these weeks.

By treating the situation as non negotiable, it takes away all the umming and ahhing that I usually do, mostly from a sitting/lying in bed position. No procrastination, because it’s an inevitable event.

You are going. I am going. The other girls are going to be there expecting you after having organised themselves and gotten to the meeting point. Our dedicated coaches are waiting for you to show up so you have to go. Telling myself ‘if it’s really bad we’ll just have coffee and it’ll be fun’ got me out the door on the worst days.

And do you know what? That worst day by forecast we did a 14km loop into Herring Island and back, which is somewhere that I’ve wanted to go back to since the summer but didn’t realise there was a bike path that could get me there.

And so this day, and each and every week I have said to my self, and likely to some one else too cos I’m like that, ‘if I hadn’t come, look what I would have missed out on!’

I would have stayed home, probably in bed to be honest, trying to avoid the rain when in fact by going I found out that there was no rain (although it was jolly cold!)! At least not between 10am and 12pm. It was beginning to spit as we got in the car but we did it! A nice flat ride, interesting sights and a surprising location, great company and that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that is just so lovely.

To feel like, I’ve really done something today! I wasn’t going to go, I thought it would be awful and difficult but I went (kudos for that), I participated (easy once you’re there, getting started is always the key!) and I had a great time and now I can rest mentally knowing I’ve done something worthwhile for myself and I’ve been a team player and it’s such a nice feeling!

Rather than wasting away the day waiting for the forecast and the outlook to be better before venturing out. Turns out you really do have to JUST DO IT! And more times than not, it will be well worth your while and you have experiences and enjoyment that you would have missed waiting for the sun to come out!

Bike learning

Last Wednesday I drove out to the Yarra Ranges for a bike ride with Wheel Women.

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You remember Wheel Women? They are the awesome group of women who have teamed up with Cycling Australia to run the empowering She Rides programs for women around Melbourne.

I’ve finished the course and now I’m in that tricky phase after completing any kind of training or education; implementing the knowledge and making changes in my life. But with the great Wheel Women She Rides version it isn’t really a difficulty at all! Each and every week there are several rides posted by Wheel Women for us graduates and other female riders (and occasionally males), and the majority of them suit the level I am at now.

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Not the level I want to get to, or that my husband or friends are at, or that I have been told or feel that I should be at; just the level that I am at. Which is very encouraging to keep on keeping on with regular bike riding.

There are a variety of rides from different starting points with different groups. I participated in the first ever Hawthorn She Rides program, but there have also been programs in Docklands and Knox and Geelong, and I think one in Bayside…don’t quote me on that one. I know the Hawthorn girls pretty well after eight weeks of classes and practice rides and coffees and tech nights together. So I’m always happy to go riding with them. But I’ve also been on a Docklands ride and a Knox ride and one of the all-in rides out at Warburton. And so far I haven’t found a single lady/girl/woman/chick that wasn’t lovely and helpful and kind and considerate. Also encouraging!

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Take the Warburton ride last Saturday. The large majority of the riders started at Lilydale for a 70km round trip to Warburton for lunch and back. In the classes and in my first ride after with the Docklands group (group being an optimistic term as there were two of us plus the instructor!) I’d only done up to 20km; not sure that we’d actually hit twenty. We’d done a 2km round trip to practice starting and stopping and turning, and about the same to practice signalling.

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I’d been terrified of doing really any riding at all before the class because I was, and still am a bit, scared of the effort involved in riding up hills, and that I couldn’t do the distance, being so much less fit than when I last rode. The only ride I’d done in the last two years was an excruciating 5km on the Eastern Freeway trail with my hubby. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t fit, there were hills and it was just a struggle! It hurt and I wanted to get off and not get back on.

But those first two rides were fine. Then we did a 6km ride into Richmond to the Total Rush store to learn how to fix a flat tyre including taking the wheels off and putting them back on, adjusting the chain and derailleur, taking out the tube and patching or replacing it and putting it back in. That was a great and very empowering session!

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The ride was pretty good but I got too hot going into town from Hawthorn. I always get hot, it’s just a fact of life now that I’m on the antidepressant venlafaxine. I overheat, I sweat, I wipe off the sweat and repeat! I’m so excited for winter! Well outdoors winter, not indoors winter…heaters are the bane of my life!

Anyway, I got hot and that reduces my tolerance for pushing myself. I get exasperated and just want to do anything to get cooler. It’s such an unpleasant feeling, and I hate that people can see all the sweat on my face, and its still my number one side effect to get rid of on my dreamboat wishlist. I’d followed the clothing choices of everyone else with lots of layers including gloves and neck warmer. But I’ve learnt since that in most situations I’m better off in Tshirt and pants. I get hot riding but the breeze goes through my shirt to keep me cool and I’m happy; it works. I take extra just in case, but don’t put it on until I need it.

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Anyway, the ride from Hawthorn to Richmond is a pretty flat ride with a couple of little rises but we’d only learnt gears the week before and I’d had a chest infection and hadn’t practiced. Of course I’d used gears before this course, but not correctly it turns out. Gears makes so much difference when you know how to use them! So being hot and exasperated and still coughing from my chest infection I ditched the 6km ride home and caught the train instead. With a flat phone and scant knowledge of the Glen Waverley train line I somehow got off at the right station and found my way by bike the 2km back to the car. I wasn’t that far behind the others.

But the idea that I couldn’t keep up, and riding was hard had received a boost!

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Luckily the next week we tackled a 14km ride to Herring Island and back that I found easy! From can’t do more than 6km to easy 14km! I don’t know how or why but it happened!

I was worried beforehand, but I ended up chatting to another girl all the way in (the distraction really works!) and at the end I felt like I could have ridden further; I had effort still in the tank waiting to be used! That was a nice feeling.

And for the very first time in years, I felt that exhilaration, euphoria, sense of everything being well and life being exciting that they tell you comes from endorphins! Which was a real revelation! 18 months after my diagnosis of depression/bipolar I finally felt that benefit of exercise that everyone’s been yackedy yacking about! I can see now why they say exercise is good for your mood…but I just couldn’t get anything like that with walking. It was sometimes pleasant but not euphoric. Going to the gym sometimes gave me a taste. Playing squash had gotten me part of the way, but my fitness can’t manage that now. But bike riding really nailed it!

After that ride we rode a longer distance into Fed Square which I managed well, then my Docklands crew ride was 16km, dead flat and along the beach on a glorious day! Perfect!

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So the Warburton ride. I’d made up my mind that I would tackle the 35km loop on the trail from Woori Yallock to Warburton and return. I could have chosen the 20km loop from Launching Place but I wanted to see how I went extending myself. I was reallly enjoying my riding by now, and had proved myself to myself a bit, and was aptly a fitting graduate from the She Rides Confidence program!

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I’d wanted to ride the Warburton to Lilydale rail trail for YEARS but never felt fit enough. And herein lies the beauty of the Wheel Women community. A ride that my husband would do, but which wouldn’t really be as valuable to him as his 100km+ weekend road loop. He would enjoy exploring and the scenery, but I’d feel a bit babysat. I don’t have any other friends who ride right now. And going out there by myself is something I’d never think of! But here is a ready made group of women who also want to ride the trail, don’t have anyone to ride with and we all turn up and do it together! Brilliant!

We were told beforehand what speed range we should be able to hold to keep up with the group. I knew that I could maintain that speed based on previous rides, however I failed to consider the difference between riding on asphalt/concrete and fine gravel; the latter is quite a bit slower! But the leaders put me at the front of the group so that my speed would dictate the speed of the group and I wouldn’t get dropped (a cycling term for being less fit/skilled/able than other riders and getting spat out of the back of the group as they gradually pass you by virtue of their better skills/fitness/abilities!). This still happened to me, twice! But I was never left behind.

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The combination of a slight incline, gravel, starting with no warm up, the group being warmed up and ticking along at a good pace meant the first few kilometres were a struggle! I was maintaining a speed about 4km/hr slower than intended but the first time I was dropped I caught up with the group at a road crossing. I got put at the front but still got inevitably passed one by one as the incline and my quads fought each other! That time I stayed behind for a few kilometres with a very patient partner-of-a-coach tagging me all the way.

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That’s what I love about Wheel Women; they leave no man behind…or whatever the modern expression is. You are noticed, you are part of the group, you are looked out for, you are helped and supported along the way, and if things go bad thay’ve got your back. Although we’ve been taught how to fix our own mechanical issues its nice to know you’re riding with experienced women who can back you up with technical assitance and spare parts.

Speaking of mechanical issues. I went back out to tackle the Warburton trail on Wednesday with the Knox group, also lovely ladies. I rode two easy kilometres to where I was meeting them for the Launching Place 20km loop. My mum and grandma were driving out to meet us for lunch. And lucky they were! As I was waiting I heard the unmistakeable gush of air passing out of the tube valve, and my back tyre went dead flat! Not good, but the group were coming and they could help. Here was a steep learning curve that I needed and won’t forget. The group leader: Where’s your spare tube? Don’t have one. Okay I’ll see if mine fits, no it doesn’t. That’s okay we’ll patch it, where are your patches? Don’t have any. Okay I’ll use mine, start taking off the tyre, where are your tyre levers? Don’t have any…spoken very quietly!

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Oh dear!

And the reason I didn’t have them? So silly! The week before I went in to Total Rush to get all the bits and pieces, but I forgot the $100 Specialized voucher that comes with Wheel Women membership. So I postponed buying until the next week when I would be passing by for my GP appointment. Sadly this ride came the day before that appointment! Missed it by that much!

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Suffice to say I now have all of the above and more! Because the outcome of the day was no one had the right sized tube to lend me, the patch didn’t hold and the valve got damaged and wouldn’t hold any air. The one bike shop didn’t stock my tube size, so they day ended with an emergency pick up from the family, lunch, and a drive home! Very disappointing but I won’t repeat it! 2km total on a lovely mild day with fair weather all round! Dulp!
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But stay tuned for photos of me doing all the mechanical work with my two bare hands while my hubby commentates from the sidelines. You haven’t seen the last of me!

*Much of the photo credit must go to Tina, possessor of the genius behind all that is Wheel Women. Your talent at taking photos while riding knows no bounds! Thanks for documenting my progress in pictures 🙂