Hard questions #1

*WARNING: this is a blunt and honest account of hygiene, specifically the lack thereof – you may not look at me quite the same after reading this, but remember that I am the same person, just struggling to keep my juggling balls in the air*

What I write here, I write to share with you the side of mental illness that isn’t necessarily obvious to the onlooker, be they aware or unaware of the illness. Or maybe its obvious, but not understood. I write it to break through the stigma, if I can, that still settles over the mentally ill and to raise awareness of what life is like inside a head that doesn’t let you be the boss very often.

I know this isn’t going to be glamorous. But believe me: I’m not trying to sensationalise the truth. If anything, I’m under-selling the real story. So here we go:

Some questions are hard to answer.

Some questions are unanswerable.

Some you just wish were!

Like,

“How long is it since you last had a shower?” – husband

 

Ummm…well…

I’m not really sure…ahhh…

Maybe…I don’t know…

I think it was…

Hang on, when did I last work? Was it then…no, that’s right, I dry shampooed…

So, then…maybe on the weekend? Which day was it…

You changed the towels a week ago?

I haven’t used mine yet? Hmm…

…well then I guess…well then I guess that’s when…ah, yeah…so…a week you say…

Now where was I? let me just…slowly walks awaydrowns in shame

Plans to shower tomorrowknows it probably won’t happen

more shamethat’s life!

There are a number of questions that you try your best to avoid hearing, and therefore having to answer, once chronic illness has set in.

Like, when did you last have a shower.

I was never a shower-a-day person. I grew up out of town in drought years and whenever the rain didn’t come we had to buy in tanker loads of water to fill up our concrete tanks because we weren’t connected to town water. For longer than I liked we didn’t shower, we bathed because it was much more economical for water use to run a bath tub full of water rather than have individual showers. Plus when we were little its just what you do; everyone piles in. When we were little the bathroom was also outside in the mud brick section of the house: shower and bath in one room, laundry in another, and toilet at the end. Later on in our school years we got an inside bathroom (toilet still outside) and it was one after the other, and you got to top it up with hot water if it ran cold, which by the time the 4th person got in was a high likelihood, never mind the parents. Especially because some people liked to have a sleep in there, regardless of those following! Okay I was one of those having a sleep in the bath, but I went last or close to last. If you were washing your hair you got to quickly rinse the conditioner off in the shower, given that the bath water wasn’t the cleanest by that point. Then again, showering wasn’t all it cracked up to be since the shower head was too short! It was half a gym workout doing squats under the tap while rinsing your hair!

So I was an every second day washer, basically just when my hair needed washing or my leg hair was getting to liberated woman stage! So when I got sick I didn’t exactly have the best routine to fall back on.

Why is showering so difficult and so irregular now?

There’s no simple, snappy one-liner answer.

It’s a few things.

My shower is in a bath. Lifting a leg over the tub just always seems so…HARD! I think about having a shower, and I think about getting one leg up and over, let alone 2 legs into that bath without over-balancing, the effort of getting my big self up and over into the tub and its just…its…its so…its just, yeah, well, maybe tomorrow.

So there’s that. Plus it takes energy. If I had a store of energy, like in a barn, I would go get the amount of energy that I need with my forklift and bring it back to the bathroom and have my shower. It would be simple, straightforward. I would just take the exact amount of energy needed, use it to have a shower and it would be all good! Sadly, unfortunately, regrettably, energy doesn’t store. It just comes and goes, waxes and wanes. You either have it in the moment or you don’t. There are things that help or not, but there’s no guarantee of having the energy you need when you need it. So, lying in bed thinking about having a shower and I ask myself, do I have the energy to do this right now? And it’s an easy answer, it’s a yes/no problem. So it either happens, or it doesn’t. I.e. it doesn’t. Because all that thinking just used up my having a shower energy! Isn’t that ironic? So now no energy, no shower and I turn my attention to covering up not having a shower, if its been more than a day.

There are things that make it a bit easier. Hubby getting the shower running and frogmarching me to the edge of the tub for instance. Well that’s about it, actually. There are hardly any things that actually motivate me to the point of getting up off my tush and having a shower, even my amazing husband. Even when he asks me to, as a favour to him. This is a point that a lot of people don’t understand.

“Don’t you want to do it for me?”, “Yes I do want to do it for you”.

“Do it for me”, “I can’t”.

“Can’t you even do it for me?”, “I’m sorry, I just can’t, even for you”.

It hurts me to give these answers. I love my husband more than anything in the whole world. We have been best friends since 2003, since we met practically. We’ve been married for nearly 8 years and have shared everything together. If I could do it for him, I would! Come to think of it, if I could do it for myself, I would! But its not about that. Its about not having the energy, the motivation, the drive to do it. If one of those questions comes up, it just makes me feel worse about the whole thing, which is not the intention I know; that I wouldn’t even do it for him, after all he’s done for me. How selfish!!

And maybe it is selfish. A lot of times depressed people have to make selfish choices for their own survival, be it mental, physical, or emotional survival. And it hurts us to do it. But we need to, even if you don’t see why. It’s not about you, its about us; that sounds selfish right there. But we spend a lot of time conserving our resources and we know what we can and can’t manage. But doing that means a lot of navel-gazing, inward looking so you’ll have to excuse us while we’re busy sorting ourselves out, please.

I think it is a severe understatement to say that my husband is long-suffering! He is beyond patient and kind with me, beyond what I deserve for trying his limits so severely with such things as:

  • unwashed hair looking and feeling greasy
  • the same hair tangled into dreadlocks-style clumps that have to be cut out after who knows how long of not brushing my hair, then dry shampooing, then not brushing, then dry shampooing etc
  • eyebrow/underarm/leg/bikini waxing abandoned I don’t even know how long ago anymore!
  • tooth brushing I also don’t know…well I do know cos I brushed them last week once, but before that its anyone’s guess and he suffers them orange with food stuff and still bravely kisses me when I must be repulsive with plaquey teeth and bad breath
  • BO is one area that I think is mostly under control thanks to Dove Invisible Dry with 1/4 soap
  • avoiding hand washing except when its absolutely necessary, meaning much less often than I should

You would think that because I love my husband so much, and because I know that I owe him so much, and want to please him, that these emotions would motivate me to fix these areas. He hopes that I would do it for him, and I’d love to be able to do these things for him, but wanting to do it and doing it are separate entities that rarely collide, I’ve found. Because while I DO want to do it, especially do it for him, wanting it doesn’t give you energy, the kick, the ability to actually get up and do it. I wish. So often, probably daily, my husband may well think that I don’t care enough about him to do one “little” thing for him like clean my teeth. But there’s just something so difficult to overcome in myself to just start to think about doing one of these things. I want to in theory, but practice hasn’t really tallied out on my side.

It’s difficult to explain why its so hard to do these things. After all they’re easy things that most people just do without even thinking about it. But its a common happening in depressed people to get slacker on these things. It’s just one of those things that goes when your mind and your body slow down. It takes 10 minutes of pros and cons to decide that I absolutely can’t go another day without showering, that even my soapy deodorant, dry shampoo and perfume aren’t going to cut it today. Then it takes a good 10 minutes to plan how I’m going to get up, walk the 9 steps to the bathroom (actually 9 steps), clamber into the bath and get the shower going. Then I may actually have a shower, or can it after all and skip another day.

I’m not alone. I was relieved when I found this out. Depression tells you that you’re a slob, and disgusting, and no one wants to be around you, and maybe thats not far off. But knowing that this is a common symptom of depression takes a little of the pressure off, which helps you to take it easy on yourself, which in its own twisted roundabout way means that you’re MORE likely to pick up some of the hygiene slack. So here’s what others have said

“Literally not showering for months. Not changing your clothes for weeks. Not combing your hair for days. Not brushing your teeth for weeks. With depression, hygiene goes out the window.” — Zoe S – The Mighty ‘Worst Symptoms of Depression‘ article.

“Not keeping in touch with anyone, bad personal hygiene and extremely bad reactions to seemingly trivial things.” — Jenny B – Upworthy ‘30 Things Depressed People Do‘ article.

“I love not having to decide if I’m mentally and emotionally prepared to spend time drying my hair after a shower” – a friend who just shaved her head for cancer awareness and fundraising.

“Thinking about going to the gymhaving a shower like”…hopefully this opens to a visual aid giving you an idea of how I think about showers.

But now, a new directive:

“Danika, I strongly encourage you to shower daily” – my psychiatrist

Rats!! *snaps fingers* I was hoping to avoid such a direct instruction!

“Not for hygiene…”

Well that’s surprising! All I’ve considered so far is hygiene.

“…but for your own self-worth. You aren’t showering because of low self-worth, and then not showering further lowers your self-worth. *cue light bulb moment* You have come from a long way back to get back to work and it hasn’t been easy, especially having issues with the pharmacy board and your current job, but you made it. As far as work goes you’re back to where you came from, more or less. Showering daily will reinforce to you that you’re back to where you came from, and improve your self-worth. Your actions inform your mind, just as your mind informs your actions” – my psychiatrist, quoted as near as I can remember.

Well that was all a revelation, I can tell you!

Showering to improve how I think about myself. Not cause its the thing to do, or for hygiene, or cause someone thinks I should. In fact, its all about me! And don’t we like that?

So, here I am the day after yesterday when I talked to my psychiatrist, 5.26pm, wondering when exactly should I have this shower? Cos I’ve managed to not have the time for it so far: dropping off the car to get serviced first thing then doing a jobs run of picking up clothing repairs/script dispensing/groceries/posting a parcel then walking home, breakfast, a nap, another little nap, house inspection, groceries delivered, pick up the car, Officeworks. And now going out to dinner…is there time before? Or when we get home? Hmmm.

I do feel like my head is in a different space though, after that chat. Shout out to my darling husband for dobbing me in to the psychiatrist!! Sheesh!! So, about that shower…

Accidents happen

We all know this: accidents happen. It’s part of life.

But in some areas, accidents aren’t okay. So we make systems and safeguards and policies and procedures and checks and balances and we educate to minimise human error. Sometimes, even that isn’t enough.

I know mistakes happen. This week I had my first ever car accident. I’ve had plenty of near misses and close calls in the fourteen years since I got my learner’s permit, but luck has always been on my side. I did have to run off the road once when someone stopped dead in front of me on a 100kmph road…but apart from having a panic attack from a massive surge of adrenaline after I finally pulled the car to a stop in an orchard, there was no harm, no foul!

This week what happened was that my left front tyre slipped on the soft edge of the road made up of leaf litter, and despite me pulling on the steering wheel and braking hard I slid off the road into the shallow ditch and hit the bank on the other side! It was sort of interesting to note that the wheels did turn; once I got out of the car and found that my knee was just bruised, I found that the wheels were in a slightly turned position but obviously I just skidded. Luck was still on my side though: the side of the road, the mini ditch and the wall of the ditch that I ran into were all so soft that there was almost no damage at all, and I wasn’t hurt. In fact when I eventually got off the wall, it was running water; there was practically a river of water running out of it! The unlucky part was that I “crashed” (a dramatic word for sliding off a road at slowish speed) in the back of beyond on a road very infrequently used with no internet or mobile reception and no GPS! Couldn’t call hubby, couldn’t call RACV, couldn’t call work to tell them I was a bit delayed; nothing! I couldn’t message through Viber, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Gmail; nothing! No one could track my phone by GPS. So I had to sit there and wait. And wait. And wait! In the end I had to wait half an hour before the next car came along! Still, it could have been a lot worse.

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Doesn’t look too bad right? Just resting here…

 

I couldn’t leave the car to find better reception, even locked, because I was halfway between picking up a bucket load of drugs and delivering them to my pharmacy! Imagine: I’m a pharmacist in a new job, trusted for the first time with a pick up, and for the first time I have an actual car accident!! Not cool! Someone asked me if I told the boss…um no!! Sure I could get him to pay the repairs, but do I really want to start with that kind of problem two and a half months into my job? Please note this drug/medication transfer was a one-off event; my car is not usually filled with drugs!!

So I sat there. I yelled out loud at the top of my lungs a few times for no one to hear. Just expressing my frustration in a civil, calm manner. I tried slowly reversing back without spinning the wheels but the ground was too wet and the leaf litter was too deep; the front wheels gripped for a millisecond but slipped almost straight away. Pretty sure the back wheels didn’t budge…well of course they didn’t, its front wheel drive; duh!! My years of bumping around our block on the old Fergie tractor have finally come to some kind of use, especially that time I had to back myself out of an actual metre deep ditch! But it had better wheels more suited to this kind of situation; it could practically climb a wall! The leaf litter on the edge was so deep that when I stepped out of the car my foot went right down into it. I tried to push the car back out of the ditch from the drivers seat, I tried to push it from the back seat but it didn’t budge…oh whoops the hand brake is still on! Kind of redundant since I’m resting on a bank. But letting it off didn’t help, and whats that on my foot? EEEEK!!!! Screams at the top of her lungs!! A leech!! SWAT!! Thank goodness that’s gone. Oh no its on the steering wheel!! SWAT!! Now its on a different part of the steering wheel! ARGH this leech is a real sucker!! Who would have thought?! Jumps out of the car out of impulse trying to get away from the huge, enormous, blood sucking monster!! Almost as bad as a spider at close quarters!

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The exact view from my car window…so it wasn’t all bad!

 

 

Oh wait, what’s that?? A 4WD or ute or something big and heavy and revving is coming down the hill! Start waving, start waving!! Yes its a cab ute with 2 men and a towing engine thing on the front and a solid tow rope with a huge hook…oh yes, this is what I’ve been waiting for!! Waving, waving, getting out of the car, please help me!! It occurs to me belatedly…that I am in a deserted part of the world, with no mobile or internet reception, asking 2 men for help in a situation that I can’t help myself out of, and trusting to their good nature. When I was suffering anxiety, I would’ve been hiding in the boot of my car til sundown and my husband realised I was missing and sent out a search party!! Actually no, my boot was full of drugs…well maybe the back seat then. It just shows how far I’ve come, and that really most people you run into are good.

The driver’s reaction when he got out of the ute? “Oops!” Precisely, my good man! But he said he had the same accident on the next corner himself last year, so I felt better. Because of course up until this moment I had naturally assumed that this was the exact kind of idiotic, stupid thing that I always get myself into and no one else would ever do such a dumb thing and wasn’t I a prize numpty?! And that this was yet another episode of me damaging the car, because there have been many! Part of my reasoning for not telling my boss; assuming that I would be embarrassing myself! Not that I actually did anything, I just sat there while I slid in the mud. But I always insist to myself that I’m the one that stuffed up. So these 2 kind men dragged me off the bank backwards with tow ropes, but the back of the car was slipping into the ditch now, so we had to switch to dragging the front up onto the road and the rest of the car followed. Meanwhile whatever hound they had in the compartment on the tray of the ute was howling at me as loudly and as often as it could breathe!! Another piece of luck was going off the road while it was still bituminised; another 500 metres and it turned to packed dirt…pretty sure that would have hindered the towing process. So 45 minutes of my life and I’m back on the same bit of road I was before the accident.

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So I displaced the bank, and a bit of my bumper…not a bad result

As it turns out I shouldn’t have even been on that road! I turned 150 metres too soon, and should have been on Maroondah Highway where this would never have happened. Ahhh. But I definitely got the scenic route, although I probably would’ve been happier swapping a bit of scenery for a car trip with no accident. Only something that would’ve happened to me, or just an unfortunate happening that could happen to anyone? At least I didn’t have to get towed with all those meds on board!!! THAT would have been embarrassing to explain to the boss!

So with all this in mind, I’m still unhappy about an error that occurred today. I got several scripts dispensed at one of the pharmacies I routinely use near my GPs office and one of them was wrong. Not a little bit wrong like the price was out, or I was given the wrong quantity. I was given the wrong strength of lithium, 450mg instead of 250mg making it an overdose, and it was the slow release formulation instead of immediate release meaning it would hang around in my system longer after the overdose, and it had the usual twice daily directions that apply to the 250mg strength instead of daily which is how the 450mg slow release should be taken so the level of lithium in my system would accumulate quickly. My lithium level is already at the upper limit of okay, and my psychiatrist is thinking of reducing my dose; this would have found me in hospital within 3 days!!! It’s that serious, and potentially worse.

But I’m conflicted.

As a patient I’m outraged and think the pharmacist should be reported for this very serious error, that fortunately didn’t eventuate because I picked it up before taking it. I think that there should be some consequences for not taking the proper amount of care.

As a pharmacist I know how terrible I would feel if this were my error, but I also know that lithium is one of those medications that you should take extra care and attention with when dispensing. The error occurred because the pharmacist entered the wrong medication when typing, and so the scanning check wouldn’t pick this up. But there would have been a message saying that I previously had a different strength, which was ignored. And my history must not have been reviewed before dispensing, despite it popping up and having to be entered through before you can type in anything. Two checks ignored, besides the obvious check of visually comparing what is written on the script with what is typed before printing!! That’s three checks ignored. I’m not sure the the pharmacy board would see any reason for skipping any of these checks, especially as there were only two patients in the store at the time.

So this is my big beef with pharmacy at the moment, both in my workplace and in the pharmacies where I get my scripts dispensed. There IS a proper way to do pharmacy, and it’s not being done! For reasons which are specious and inadequate, and I believe, unacceptable! I miss hospital pharmacy for this reason: maybe we take more time but we do things as properly as we can, no shortcuts or conveniences. Of course the pharmacist felt terrible, its a natural reaction. But will it change her future practice? Will she do things properly next time? I really don’t want to report her, mostly out of colleague empathy. But is it something I should do, for the improvement of the profession? I probably won’t, but it’s still all milling around in my mind.

What’s an accident, and what’s an error? What’s okay and what’s not? Should I be pointing fingers when I make my own mistakes? I don’t know. What do you think?

Slowing down

If you look carefully, and you shouldn’t feel the need to, you can see the signs of me slowing down. Mornings get harder (and they’re never really my strong suite, but I’ve impressed myself lately), I stop answering the phone (which is always my strong preference but sometimes I’m better at it), I stop doing anything much around the house (which isn’t saying much but still), I stay in bed longer and longer, getting up and going is harder, and I dive into my laptop and live there because its more predictable and controllable in there than in the outside world. I jump into a world that isn’t reality, where beautiful music and sitcom laughter falsely pep me up. But I take falsely pepped up over no pep most days.

This week I haven’t been doing so well. I know why, but I can’t seem to shift it and improve my mood. There’s just been this one thing that’s bugging me, and I haven’t been able to physically do anything about it to this point and its just biting and biting. That has worn me down as well as consuming my thoughts with less than impressive ideas about myself. It’s brought about a constant level of fight or flight instinct in me, and between palpitations and just feeling amped up it hasn’t been fun.

At work on Sunday a patient came in desperate for something to help him sleep. He really seemed quite beside himself, saying he can’t get to sleep til 2am, doesn’t sleep long, and then is bombed out all day and can’t get anything done for being tired. It seems like a pretty clear case for handing out a Pharmacist Only sleeping tablet, but this man is on an old school medication that interacts with EVERYTHING! He was well aware of this and told me about it before I could ask about other medications. So I did the proper thing and checked to make sure that I could offer him a safe option. Most of the medications we can sell are sedating antihistamines like Phenergan and Polaramine which you may well have heard of. But these interact with his medication so they’re out. There was only one option (other than referring him to his doctor whenever he could get in) so I set him up with that, explained it all to him, reassured him that it was fine, advised him to take a half dose to start with and we both went on our way happy.

Then I got a call from him saying he’d read the leaflet in the box (of course, he would be the one in twenty to do so!) and it said not to take it. I explained again that the reason not to take it with his medication was because of drowsiness not another side effect, and in his case we wanted the drowsiness. At this point I recommended he discuss it with his doctor before taking it if he didn’t feel confident, but he said I was the medicine expert so if I said it was okay, then he was okay with it. Flattering to hear, but a bit of a terrifying responsibility at the same time. But I was happy from what I read so all good. But that call back set off some doubt in myself, some insecurity that maybe I got it wrong and I just cannot get rid of the [insert adjective] questioning in my head!! I looked it up again, and again, and although it seems right, there’s just something!! Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have not given him anything and hoped he could see his specialist soon? Is my knowledge still not up to date enough? What if something happens?? That last one is a killer of peaceful thoughts! Is it likely? No. But…and that is pretty much the loop my brain is feeding me.

I’ve tried to breathe: in 2 3, out 2 3 4 5. I’ve tried distracting myself, thinking of something else like our holiday to Queensland sometime later this year: I now have put together the most thorough bird watching to-do list that you’ve ever seen, have an order pending for a Cairns specific bird book, and GPS coordinates for good locations! I tried eating: fail. Telling a colleague: they weren’t concerned but what does that mean? The responsibility doesn’t rest on their shoulders so…I was asked to work yesterday so I was going to look the patient up and give them a call to check everything is okay, but my shift got canned. So that phone call got pushed out til tomorrow. It’s been a long week!! I’m just stuck in quandry, in limbo waiting for the knife to fall, the bell to toll, the consequence to descend on me. ARGH!

So my mood has struggled. Monday I was in bed til lunchtime, or after lunchtime; sometime around 3pm possibly. I don’t think I did a single thing. Wake up, sleep, wake up and breakfast, sleep, wake up and snack, sleep, wake up and drive 2 minutes for KFC, sleep, dinner, sleep. Very interesting. I was bugged by this sleeping tablet business all day, but I didn’t realise how much it was sapping my energy, motivation, interest in anything else til later. But every time I woke up either overnight or during the day it was right there, clear as crystal in the front of my mind!

Yesterday I managed to get out because I had a voucher with a use-by date to redeem at the aquarium, and at Pancake Parlour; freebies are a good motivator. Breakfast/brunch near an open fire while sorting bird photos on my laptop was pretty fun!!

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Then on to the aquarium where I enjoyed walking around in a removed kind of way, apart from the lovely shallow rock pool with little rays and elephant sharks (which are so ugly!!) and little fishies; that was awesome. Then on to the behind the scene package where we got in a glass bottom boat and watched rays and sharks and fish swim just beneath us. That was pretty cool. But the breakthrough was feeding the rays. I’m not talking about the little ones, I mean the Smooth Stingray species that is 3 or 4 metres across. They come up to the side of the tank for feeding, and they aren’t meant to, but they flap flap flap their “wings” against the side and cause huge splashes!! So naughty, and so fun fun to watch and take photos of! That got me laughing out loud; I really enjoyed that. I was smiling for ages after that.

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Then I went down a couple of levels to the bottom of that tank so I could watch the big sharks and rays swimming around through the glass; another wonderful experience! That really did it for me, and it is SO important to have things that do it for you on not so great days. Last stop was the penguins, and a cute penguin onesie for a baby who I know will be coming later in the year. I was still wrecked by the end of the day, I was still dragging myself around the levels of the aquarium, I was still tired but I got some smiles and laughs in which makes it a win as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t take much to suck that out of me, but at least it was sucking from happy to regular, not from regular to down. That’s a good thing too.

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We had a chat last night, hubby and me. Something about me being in a rut, lost in my laptop, not really engaging with the world or him. And I recognised it then as a symptom, that I really was down a bit and struggling a bit and it was cause and effect happening right there in my easy chair. I was almost at a point to make an appointment with my GP for a pep talk and pick me up, but I’m still holding that card because I see my psychiatrist next Tuesday.

So what about today? There is purely one reason why today worked. Wheel Women had a ride on that I had RSVP’d too but wasn’t sure if the weather would turn out good enough. Last night hubby said: “go even if its raining because there’s only meant to be a small amount of rain, so if it’s raining its probably nearly done”. And it happened exactly like that. Even though it was POURING rain when I woke up, I got up, got dressed, got ready, checked in to make sure the ride was still going ahead, and drove over to Kensington. It rained the ENTIRE way over there, except the last 1 to 2km, and then it was the most spectacular morning you could possibly imagine. Blue skies, the Maribyrnong river was looking stunning in blue as it reflected the sky, the grass was green and it was good to be alive with friends enjoying the sunshine and the fresh morning. That alone does it for me, and I would have been so disappointed had I stayed home.

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Instead we had a lovely time chatting while we rode, chatting over coffee and chatting all the way home again!!! And then, because I wanted to check out some birds (so wishing I had my camera in these perfect conditions!!) and get some shots of the city that I couldn’t take while I was riding, I did the whole thing again!! Yep, 2 loops along the Maribyrong and I can’t think of a better way to spend the day! Right now, I’m happy. I have a low level of anxiety still going on but I think I might take a Valium to give me a bit of a break from that so I can enjoy this feeling of happiness and friendship and accomplishment. Every time I do that ride along the Maribyrnong I remember the first time when I thought it was the hardest thing in the world! Now I just spin along and enjoy it for the scenery, and don’t even notice the kilometres going by. It’s nice having landmarks to show how far you’ve come!! I always appreciate them.

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What else was good about today? I went back again to look at birds and I found some terrific ones!! A Hardhead duck so close I could touch it when they’re normally shy birds. A stunning male Superb Fairy Wren in full blue plumage on a fence post in the sun (oh camera, wherefore art thou camera??!!). A group of Little Black Cormorants fishing together. A pair of Red-rumped Parrots flying off JUST in front of my wheel! A Great Egret in slow, graceful flight. Beautiful, lovely day. Plus a new Wheel Women friend. And watching a recent Wheel Women member improving with every ride; I love that!! Let’s hold on to that happy!!

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First day/s

[Saturday 29th, and Sunday 30th April 2017]

“So how was your first day at work?”

Well thanks for asking! Really. I’m so grateful to every person who has asked about my first shift, about starting this job, and about what’s next for me. It’s so encouraging and I hope this answers all of your questions!

Actually, it’s also a complete relief to have an answer! Being “unemployed” never got more satisfying as a reply when people asked what I was up to. Although “unemployed” is not how I ever thought of myself. I still thought of myself as a pharmacist, although the longer I wasn’t working, the looser that description felt. I thought of myself as a birdwatcher, a photographer, a bike rider, a lady who was able to lunch more days of the week than not; but that seemed to come off a bit lame as an explanation. These titles com in addition to the long term titles of wife and sort-of housekeep; although hubby would argue with the housekeep bit, most likely. And then there’s how sick I had been, and still was, and how that was impacting my ability to work (or not!). Yes, I thought of myself as sick, because it’s hard not to. I mean I was. But it’s hard to explain the full extent of that, and the gradual process of recovery, in a short conversation.

But here I am, a pharmacist again. And I’ve so surprised myself; I’ve fit back into the role like I never left! I really thought I’d lost something irreplaceable somewhere along the line!! Really! Something that would stop me being a pharmacist again. Despite my seven years as a hospital clinical pharmacist, despite everything that I’ve done well and every proof of my good work, I let some unfair feedback from my previous job get under my skin like I do with many little, minor things, plus I have some insecurity about the gaps in my work history and how they would look to a future employer, and I started to doubt myself and worry about what next.

But, thank goodness, no. I mean there are plenty of things I can brush up on, make no mistake about that. There are definitely things I’m rusty on, and there have been a couple of minor boo boos; nothing a bit less of a rush, and a bit more math couldn’t have solved! But I’m back, really back! After my first two full-on days as the in-charge pharmacist working flat chat alongside great staff, meeting lovely patients/customers, doing the job of a pharmacist I can tell you that I’ve come home with an exhausted, almost delirious but actual happy, contented smile on my face, and I feel good! I never quite got the adrenaline rush that’s meant to come from exercise, but work is definitely a rush! One of the biggest joys, and most surprising, of starting back at work has been the methadone/Suboxone customers on the opioid replacement program: they are a really friendly bunch and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them. Okay, so I might be quite starry eyed and all at this point, but it’s all gone better than I thought so I’m staying thrilled for now. I’m back. That’s the most important thing!

Okay what else? My feet have been KILLING me!! This should be no surprise when you spend 7 or 8 hours straight standing up with maybe 10 or 20 minutes sitting down. Especially when up till now it’s been more like 9 or 10 hours of sitting down with interjections of activity. Swollen ankles, aching legs, feet sending out electric shots and shooting daggers; all symptoms of half my blood supply pooling in my lower legs!! Home time means legs up above my heart to return all that blood back to my circulation…lying on the floor with feet on the couch does the trick, if you were wondering. A pharmacist who has specialised in wound care for 30 years or more recommends all pharmacists (and anyone else standing up most of their waking hours) wear compression stockings/socks every time they work for this very reason, to keep the blood flow from pooling causing varicose veins, venous ulcers, cellulitis and more. It’s a great plan. I did wear compression tights for a while in winter a few years back because they pass as opaque black tights and they make a huge difference in how tired your legs get. But honestly, have you seen those opaque beige stockings?? I may not have much to be vain about, but I’m not quite prepared for those stockings. Plus these days I keep too warm for stockings of any kind so that helps my case, but not my legs and feet.

It’s been busy! Not as busy as it should have been on Saturday, then way busier than it should have been today, Sunday! Which evened out to 2 solid days work but we only had to do 30 minutes overtime today, and got out on time yesterday so that’s a win. Unfortunately today was the day hubby was picking me up and he had to wait half an hour in the car! I’m going to drive on Saturdays, but Sundays I have to take the train cos hubby needs the car, and the timetable just doesn’t work nicely. I’m happy to sit around Ringwood station for half an hour on a Sunday morning, but I’m not keen after dark so he agreed to pick me up…dunno if he’ll be so keen next fortnight! But oddly I haven’t felt terribly stressed even when the work is stacking up. I think that these days I accept that I can’t do everything, and just pick one task after the next and keep at it till we get through them all. To give fair due, both days I have worked with amazing help in the dispensary: a 3rd/4th year pharmacy student all day on Saturday and a dispensary technician who I wasn’t supposed to have, but who balanced front of shop with helping me on Sunday. Both were very efficient dispensers, really excellent assistants and a great help with customer service and supply of pharmacy only and pharmacist only products. Plus the shop girls took all the load of processing payments as well as providing great product advice. And there was always that pharmacist out the back providing an invaluable back up to my uncertainty; what a team!!

For some reason whoever was working Friday hadn’t seemed to order medications as they used the last one on the shelf. This is the pharmaceutical equivalent of not only finding that the last sheet on the toilet paper roll has been used up, but going to the cupboard and finding that that was the last roll! And now you have a patient/customer who needs toilet paper or…you get the metaphor. We had a fair few of these annoying and really inexcusable outages on Saturday, and it was embarrassing. It’s also a problem because we can’t order on Saturday, or rather we can but it won’t come in until Monday anyway, so we couldn’t even tell people to come back tomorrow. By the end of the day we had a longer order of medications than I’ve seen so far on a weekday, and we couldn’t order anything; quite the irritation, especially for common medications.

This is going to be my main deal in this job, working every second weekend. After finishing this first one, I think it going to be okay, good even. People coming in on the weekend understand that you’re giving up your weekend for them (sometimes!) and can be really appreciative (or not)! But I think I like it! Even though I’ve taken a pay cut to be here, don’t like working Sundays, have no real entitlement to a lunch break or any other break on a weekend day, am more hectic than I’ve been in a good while, and have to keep processing scripts when I’m busting for the loo, its a job and a pretty good one, so there’s lots to be happy about! Yes, I’m happy!

Canberra Day 94

[Wednesday 14th December]

Well today was a terrible day career-wise, nothing fatal but nothing fun, so it’s a good thing that I’m in Canberra with a licence to explore and enjoy new experiences.

I’m having some issues with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) that manages the registration of 14 different health professionals, including pharmacists. Previously we had our own pharmacy board, but in 2010 several boards were amalgamated and now we are managed jointly. This new organisation, AHPRA, manages our annual registration including our compulsory continuing professional development (CPD) requirements, whilst another organisation manages the regulation of pharmacies and pharmacy departments. All very boring and tedious, until your annual registration comes up against a problem. In my case a CPD problem. Each year between October 1st and September 30th, every registered pharmacist in Australia now has to achieve 40 hours of CPD to qualify to be re-registered. After the amalgamation the amount of CPD to be achieved began as 20 hours and increased over a couple of years. Its pretty standard now, and pretty achievable if you’re working, which is the point; to keep you up to date.

I first went on sick leave in March 2014 and stayed on sick leave for several months before I dragged my reluctant body back to work only part time for 6 weeks in September/October that year to complete my contract at the Alfred, in the vain hope that I would build up professional fitness quick enough to convince my workplace that I was fit and well to work and be re-hired. I was desperately hoping to stay on because I loved that job. It was a joke looking at it now; there was no way I was even fit for the very part time work I was doing then let alone more. But the point being, between October 1st 2013 and September 30th 2014, the annual CPD year, I worked 6 months and work generates CPD as does starting a new job as does changing positions within a job all of which applied to me. So even at the 6 month mark when I got sick I had oodles of CPD numbering probably around 50 or 60 hours. So I finished my feeble 6 weeks in dispensary, ended my contract and went back to bed.

By the time I got going again and went back to work, it was July of 2015. Already up to 9 out of 12 months of the CPD year, and to be honest, to this point CPD hadn’t even crossed my mind! A little teensy nervous breakdown and the associated issues had occupied the major part of my brain for months on end and work had just gone away. Even now returning to work I was conscious of the need to get up to date with the many new drugs and devices that had hit the market in the last year and a bit, but I hadn’t thought particularly of my CPD requirements with respect to my registration. I did all the required new job CPD, I did study on things that were relevant, I recorded it all and never really thought of whether I was making the 40 hour amount. Which is unfortunate, because I didn’t make it! I got 25 hours, not 40.

And there is no clause for people on sick leave. Or for people not working. You’re either practising or not practising. So, in November 2015 when I was re-registering as a pharmacist and got to the compulsory question about whether I had completed 40 hours in the previous year, I had to answer in the negative as in I did NOT meet the CPD requirements. And I won’t say that all hell broke loose, but all kinds of official pharmacy correspondence started flying around the web and through the postal service, and today is just another step in the painful process that is rectifying the situation! I’m not complaining about having to fix this up; I should have to. I’m a health professional and patients need to be sure of me being up to date and on top of the latest drugs and professional practice. I’m just complaining about the amazing bureaucracy that prevails in these matters! It is not easy to show that you have done your best to fix it, that you’ve learnt your lesson, and that you’ll do better in the future. Especially if you’re out of work again, because things just don’t come up when you’re not dispensing and reviewing medications on a daily basis. You have to actively look for things, and it’s just harder. But it’s part of my commitment and I have to just get on with it. So I’m off to send yet another email, which will probably get yet another “out of office” reply, followed by an actual reply sometime in the next two weeks or so telling me that there’s yet another technicality that I haven’t met because I was never told about it, followed by another email from me phrased very conservatively despite my inner rage and so on. You get the drill!

So there’s that, and following that the awful words “we’re terminating you”!! Seriously?! I went back to work officially in June 2015 with a fixed term 9 month contract. I guess I always assumed that there would be a possibility for extension at the end, assuming they liked me and my work was up to scratch etc. But no, despite putting me through two traditional interviews and a non traditional observation of practice interview I was never successful in getting an extension. So I was told I would be put on the casual list and they’d call me, which they never have but that suited me lately being in Canberra and all. So now out of the blue I get a call to say sorry, it’s just a HR thing but because you haven’t worked for us in 3 months we have to terminate you!! I’m sorry, what?! I’m costing you zip, I’m (usually) a resource available at short notice a 4 minute walk away, and if this was always a HR thing, why didn’t you just say goodbye at the end of my contract, instead of giving me an impression that I’d be called up to work?? So when I get back I have to return my keys and it’s all over. Well what a wake up!! Could this day get worse for my career?

Luckily I have good things planned so let’s off to the High Court to observe other people getting the rough end of the stick, potentially. I won’t pretend to understand the case that was being argued but the solemnity and the ceremony of it all was very impressive and the two counsels arguing were humorous in their own way, especially one who referred to “my learned friend” at the beginning or end of every sentence! I’m pretty sure even the 5 judges were smiling under their wigs. A bit of light relief, and I’m glad that becoming a lawyer was never on my list. I took my fill then left, remembering to pause and bow to the judges on my way out!

And now to really flush all that career mess out of my system!! I’ve been looking forward to this christmas concert by Igitur Nos at the National Library for a couple of weeks now. Turns out it wasn’t quite what I was expecting…more classical music, Latin and high brow Christmas songs than your typical carols. But it was pretty nice. Then a drive by a few places of interest: the historical and very pink Calthorpes House, and a few embassies.

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Lucky I have a lovely catch up with a friend after lunch. Nothing so soothing as hanging out with a friendly face and chatting away the afternoon. A super cute little baby helps just a little bit too! Happy day…in the end.

Don’t panic!

On Sunday I had a bad day.

I woke up feeling bad, kept feeling bad and managed to go to bed feeling only marginally less bad. Thankfully I woke up better on Monday and I’m trying to forget about it and put it behind me. But it was an unwanted reminder that sometime, somewhere, somehow there is going to be a relapse. It’s just a fact. But I really don’t want it!!

So what is a bad day?

I just felt bad!

I know; not terribly articulate. But that’s about all I had on the day.

To my husband’s frustration. It’s hard to be the one on the sideline asking what’s wrong and getting “I don’t know”, over and over. Like, surely you know something about what’s wrong; you must know a bit about what’s happening. But I didn’t; I still don’t. And of course there’s nothing to show for it that would give either of us a hint.

It’s also hard to be the one trying to figure out an answer to the question “what’s wrong?”. I just couldn’t explain it. Between being the one on the sidelines, and the one in the thick of it, there aren’t any winners!

In hindsight I can break it down, a bit. It’s like having a bad taste in your mouth, except its in your mind and its a lot harder to shake than by chewing gum or brushing your teeth, mainly cos you can’t get at it as easily. The bad taste makes you feel icky, yucky, unsettled, nervous, uncomfortable, sad, upset, despairing, weird, a bit spacey like you’re on the outside looking in, a bit in pain and a lot confused.

And why? Why did I have a bad day? I don’t know why. Probably there is no reason why. Or maybe there is and I’m just totally missing it. I don’t know why it happened, or why it happened today, and I probably never will. But it had gone for now, so let’s be happy about that and just leave it be. Obsessing about it won’t do any do, I’ve proved that amply by now.

So what to do about it?

Sleep.

Go back into oblivion where your brain shuts down enough of your thought processes to give you some peace. I woke up at about 9am in a sorry state, went back to bed just after 10am til 11.45pm, and went out for some lunch with hubby and family, more to avoid explaining why I wasn’t up for it as compared with actually feeling like going. Then back to bed just after 1pm til 4pm, a few hours up, then back to bed as soon as possible. It’s not living, but it’s surviving and on a day like this, that is all that counts; surviving.

So I survived, and the next day was better. Who knows how it all works. Just another story in the life of. Thanks for reading.

Canberra Day 78 to 81

[Monday 28th November – Thursday 1st December, 2016]

Okay so I’m hopelessly behind, but by some lucky chance if I cram a week into one, I’ll be up to date. At least the first half of the week anyway.

Monday 28th November, 2016

Today is our 7th wedding anniversary. 7 year itch anyone? Not even slightly, well not most days anyway. We’ve been together since 2003 so I’d say the 7 year mark has been well and truly crossed; nearly doubled even. Although the last 3 years of being sick has probably put the most strain on our relationship of anything so far! Actually no probably about it, it definitely has been the hardest thing for the two of us to get through! At times I’m sure we didn’t know how we’d get through it. And we probably aren’t through it yet, well of course not. But we’ve gotten to a kind of plateau point right now so we’re enjoying a bit of a reprieve! But we both know today isn’t going to be a big celebration cos hubby’s work has really ramped up and this is going to be a LLOOONNGG week for him! Cue long nights for me waiting for him to come home…yeah right! I got things to see and do. And then later on once its died down we’ll have a lovely meal out or something. In the meantime I’m trying to get a park to check out this bike shop, but can’t get near it. In my attempts I find this beautiful street art, hidden away in a back alley but just stunning! Canberra is terrific for street art I’m finding.

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So to fill in my day, I take a drive out to Lake George to look for birds. This is not exactly easy. Lake George borders the highway for something like 28 kilometres between Collector and Bywong over the border in New South Wales but over the fence the lake itself is divied up into individual private ownership so unless you contact them all and they somehow all agree to you entering their property, you cannot get over the fence to look for birds. This is somewhat inconvenient because its the perfect spot for birds: large shallow lake that comes up and goes down, muddy flats, grassy sections, livestock etc. So you have to bird watch from the side of the road, but since the lake went down after all the spring rain its quite a long way away. I drove up to the furthest point where the lake borders the road and start my start-stop progress back down along the road. I pull in at each stop and check out what I can see. Unfortunately not that much, but there are some birds of prey as expected hovering above the highway so that was fun to photograph. In need of lunch and finally accepting that birding Lake George is really a lost cause, other than raptors, I head to one of the wineries for lunch. The cafe is shut but its a lovely spot. Then off to another winery in hope, but it doesn’t open Monday; I guess I didn’t factor in that a lot of tourist spots would be shut today. So off home for a 3pm lunch and a nap, then when hubby did finish work we went on a bike ride around two loops of the lake. A load of washing, some blogging (if you’ll believe it) and another day wrapped up.

Tuesday 29th November, 2016

Today I checked out the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG, not to be confused with the National Museum or the National Gallery). There’s a new exhibition about Jeannie Baker, a very talented Australian illustrator and story teller. I had one of her children’s picture books as a child and it was beautiful. This exhibition is right up my ally with a book called Circle about the migrating patterns of endangered Bar Tailed Godwits which are beautiful wading birds, and about how human development of wetlands into suburbs etc affects their survival. Her illustrations are to die for! Poor choice of words, oops! They are gorgeous and so detailed and just incredible; I admired that exhibition so much! There was another exhibition that I checked out that was more post-modern, not really my thing but a little bit interesting.

Then I headed over to the Belconnen Arts Centre on the beautiful shores of Lake Gininnderra to check out a Moira Nelson exhibit that looked interesting; a brochure I found somewhere else. This woman has a brilliant style! Her sketches and paintings are marvellous, although maybe if I were the subject I wouldn’t be gushing. She pulls out all of your insecurities and paints them front and centre, which I think is so refreshing, but then my wrinkles are still under the skin not falling down my face! The paintings/drawings aren’t realistic as such, but they absolutely capture the spirit of the person, as far as I can tell anyway. I really truly enjoyed the exhibit, and to top it all off the artist was in residence sketching someone for the exhibit finale, which was fun to watch. I even ate lunch with her, and did my own drawing! After I finished the bird, she told me it was a self portrait; I told her it was a young bird morphing into a male! I hope that has nothing to do with me! In the same gallery there was also an exhibit from the gallery’s disabled program, one from the local high school’s Year 12 class and all in all what a great local gallery. img_1081

Another gallery I’d picked up a brochure for is at Gold Creek: the Old School House gallery. I headed over there but apparently they are closed on Tuesday, but how was I to know when the door was open and the kitchen going? So I was halfway into the place before they told me they were closed. But they kindly let me have a quick look at the cutesie art in the living room and the dining room of the old cottage. Then I tried to find the Gunghalin homestead AGAIN and failed AGAIN, but I somehow found the Gungaderra Homestead instead, not that you can go into it, but it turns out the same is true of the Gunghalin Homestead so nothing lost. Hubby called to say he’d be late, so off I head to the  Jerrabomberra wetlands. A beautiful place with LOADS of birds and lovely paths, except the last one where I had to beat a path along a bank through a wheat field up to my arm pits on a snakey day!! My shoes may never be grass seed-free! That was not fun, plus it was dusk so I couldn’t properly look for the snakes! But lovely grass and water birds, always a great combination for a long list of birds.

Wednesday 30th November, 2016

A bit of a home day so I got my pharmacy registration renewed and paid for (remind me why), packed my new weekly medicine box, some groceries, got a script dispensed, puts the bins out la di da. Then the main event of the day: a bike ride down to Aspen Island on Lake Burley Griffin to hear the Carillon concert at midday. This is a clock and a musical instrument that sounds like bells and sitting in the shade on the island listening to classical music isn’t a bad way to spend the early afternoon. I finally got to that bike shop Onya Bike and got me some cycling gloves in a lovely colour that matches my gear. And then, finally finally, I got to the National War Memorial in time for the Last Post ceremony, and I’m so glad! Wow, its an impressive event! Singing the National Anthem as an adult, listening to the lament on the bagpipes and the Last Post on the bugle, hearing about the life of a service person and seeing their family lay a wreath, then reading what they’ve written; it’s spine chilling really, in a good way.

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The Carillon on Aspen Island, connected by a bridge to the walking track around Lake Burley Griffin

Thursday 1st December, 2016

My brand new computer is playing up in the speakers, the processing, the mouse pad!! Seriously, its 2 weeks old. So back to JB hifi. Plus the case for my mobile phone was defective and when I dropped my phone both the case broke and the screen cracked!! Back to Optus; is this a recurring theme? But they won’t compensate for cracked screens, even though they admit that the case they gave me isn’t protective! ARGH! So on to something more fun. Buy a pair of shoes! Well that feels better. Then out to Fyshwick fresh food market which is really lovely, if I had a shopping list I’d be in real danger! But its just nice to look at all the fresh fruit and veg, the delis and everything. And then THE event of the day, week, month, maybe year: a performing arts piece called NERVOUS being held up at the Yale Colombia Dome at the top of Mount Stromlo near the Observatory. It was billed as a light, sound, dance, acting and science experiment event and it was all of these. A brilliant exploration of social anxiety, internal struggles to be “normal”, interpersonal anxiety through body movement, dance that mimicked the intensity and strain of close human interaction, music that thudded in your chest and made you feel like your heart was skipping a beat, flashing lights and strobes and a brilliant floor overlay of the stock market representing societal anxiety about world events, emergency sirens and news presenters…so much jammed into a short performance by 4 talented creative artists! As someone who suffers with generalised anxiety, I could relate to all of it, and that’s a precious thing! Almost too much…that thudding heart stopping music kinda got under my skin and made my throat tighten and got me feeling anxious!! And the social anxiety section was so very true that I felt like I was understood, which is also a wonderful thing. I felt very close to the artists by the end of the show, and I would definitely go to any other performance put on by the Australian Dance Party!

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The utter awkwardness of intimate physical contact, the fear of not being accepted, the longing to be part of a relationship, the difficulty of making the first move, eye contact as a whole means of communication (this whole segment was silent verbally)