Perspective

[Written in 2014, finally finished today!]

One of the techniques that I’ve been working on is looking at life differently.

My psychologist first got me onto this with a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which tries to redirect thought processes.

For example, people with anxiety and depression often catastropise. I would have a thought like, I’m not working at the moment, which would then lead to, I’m not contributing to our finances, my husband is looking after everything and I’m doing nothing, and, what if I never work again and become a vegetable, and I’m totally useless and live forever with other people having to take care of me, and hating me!!

Obviously, to an outsider this is a drastic way of thinking and a rapidly snowballing thought process! Which is not even factual, as I’ve never had it suggested to me even once that I will be doing anything but returning to my previous active, contributing life. Neither is it at all likely! But depression just has to nut out the worst case scenarios and get you to think, ‘what if’?! And the thing is, at the time, you can’t see it for what it is. It feels totally real, and scary, and awful even though other people may dismiss it as illogical.

Depression, does not have logic.

But depressive thoughts can be changed. It isn’t easy, but if you work at it in the right way, you can slow or stop the snowballing and start to prevent the catastrophising.

Around the same time as I started to see my psychologist, I was already involved in the 100 Happy Days photo challenge that I’ve talked to you about before. Happy. Depression. The two don’t naturally go hand in hand. They’re kind of opposites. Making this a real challenge! This involved, every day, taking a photo of something that made you happy. I knew I was suffering generalised anxiety when I took it on, and during the course of the challenge got diagnosed with depression and bipolar.

Finding something in the day that makes you truly happy takes a real change in thinking. It takes noticing the detail in the day, the little things that are often overlooked, appreciating what is often taken for granted.

These were not the happiest days of my life! Needless to say. In fact, some of the worst days that I have ever experienced were smack bang in the middle of the challenge. But did you know that it never once crossed my mind to not go on with the challenge? I never once considered not doing the challenge, even when I was sitting in the emergency department beside myself with suicidal thoughts and in so much mental pain that I didn’t know how I would live. My happy day photo that day? I was wearing my favourite dress with the huge rosettes around the hem and I was eating my favourite Snickers bar!

There’s always something. That’s what the challenge taught me before I was even conscious of it.

Depression is called depression because it’s depressing.

It lowers you down, it lowers your mood, it lowers your mind. It’s the mind version of walking along in life looking at the gutter. All you can see is the dirty, the trashy, the boring, the bleak, the wasteful, the dead, the mundane.

I’ve always been a stare at the ground in front of me and watch for snakes kind of girl. You know, just in case. But now, instead of physically looking down and stomping along to the train to go to work, I started looking up, casting my eyes around me and began to see all kinds of things in that 10 minute walk alone. The wood ducks nibbling on grass beside the path; never even knew they were there! How beautiful the pond looked shimmering in the morning like. How green was the grass, how blue was the sky. How beautifully kept that lady’s roses are so close to busy Box Hill Central!

And it got me mentally looking up. Instead of snoozing my alarm until the last possible minute, and dragging myself begrudgingly out of bed, I started to wake up wondering what I would see today that would make me happy. There is no mistaking that my mental health was in a dire situation, but at least for a few moments of the day there would be something that I found that would give me a glimmer of a smile, a bit of satisfaction because I found it! That thing that could make me happy. And the memory of it could be taken with me throughout the day. It truly proved to me that if you put yourself to the effort of looking up, mentally or physically, you will surely be rewarded.

So in an effort to lift one’s mind’s eye to a more beautiful view we try this technique of purposefully, intentionally looking up. Some call it mindfulness, some call it practising gratitude, some people call it thankfulness; doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s a thing. A method to get out of the grunge and into the pretty meadows, or paddocks since this is Australia.

Probably this is the most powerful method of changing perspective, although I’ve way under used it! I came to it as a compulsory part of my insurance, and having someone tell you that you have to do something that you think is stupid is never a good starting place!! But I had to change my thinking. I had an amazing logical sensible teacher who was on my wavelength, and the lessons I learned were incredible!

Mindfulness teaches you to slow down, to take more time to take in the things that we usually just rush by. By doing this, you get greater fulfillment out of life.

I’ve also always been a person to try to scrape the most out of every second, minute, hour, moment. I always got up at the last possible moment, showered for as long as possible til I absolutely had to get out, dressed as fast as possible and left the house only when leaving a minute later would make me nine minutes late instead of eight! Because I was always rushing I’d often leave my lunch, my wallet, my phone, my brain at home! I always squeezed the most time possible into my breaks, felt jibbed every time I had to go back, put off going back to bed so I could fit more into the day. Etc, etc!

But anxiety made me realise that this is not a feasible way for me to live anymore. The extreme anxiety I feel when I’m rushing, late, overcommitted is so awful with the nausea, the sweating, the palpitations. And mindfulness reinforced this again. What if you could walk slowly and calmly without a care in the walk on your way to work? How would that be? Wouldn’t that be nice? Mindfulness is kind of addictive in it’s own way, because it’s highly rewarding to your brain. Of course then there’s the real world, but for a little while, you are in total control and that is amazing!

Mindfulness also teaches you how not to judge yourself and others!! Could there be a more powerful tool than this? In mindfulness, you sit with yourself, which sounds funny to start with, but you just sit with your thoughts and all you have to do is acknowledge each thought as it comes, without it being “good” or “bad”. Do you know how often we are bagging ourselves out in our head and we don’t even consciously know it? It’s terrifying! That’s the worst 3 second wrap ever, but I do highly recommend it, and not only for people with mental health disorders; it can help with a lot in life.

Changing perspective.

Looking for the happy, the good, the joyful things in life.

Some people call it being positive, but I’m not a fan of that description. I feel like being positive is ignoring the reality and the badness, and trying to paste over it with being chipper and perky and upbeat!! Maybe that’s unfair but I feel my arm hairs raise and my spine tighten when positive comes up!!

I prefer to fully acknowledge exactly what is present, what the problems are, and try to work with that to change it for the long term good, not for the short term glossing over it. I’m sorry if that’s offensive; but I feel that if the problems aren’t realised, the treatments won’t be effective so it’s important to be honest.

Changing perspective is hard. It’s hard. It takes effort. It takes perseverance. It takes time. It takes motivation. It takes emotional energy, sometimes physical energy.

Most of these are the things that depression takes away from you. Before you even have a chance to notice, depression whisks away your energy, motivation, ability to exert effort. And leaving you a blob sitting in a chair, staring at a wall wondering what to do next, and how on earth you’re going to do it?

Looking up. Changing perspective. Mindfulness. Gratitude.

The outcomes are so worthwhile if you can put yourself to the trouble.

I highly recommend engaging a psychologist, a mindfulness coach, a doctor trained in CBT because it’s much easier to be guided than to have to do it all yourself. If the session is pre-booked and all you have to do is turn up and be coached, you are already on an easier path, from someone who knows.

Of course you have to participate, and at some point in time you will have to do it on your own, but let’s focus on getting started and you will absolutely benefit from whichever path you go down.

100 happy days is different. You can do this on your own, and unlike me doing it all through Facebook, you can do it by yourself in a notebook and nobody has to know. I can’t recommend blurting everything about your journey onto Facebook like I did; it worked for me, but not so sure about all the poor readers, and it might just not be something you are comfortable with. It’s your call, and there are lots of other options out there.

I wish you well on your perspective changing journey!

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!