Calling me

This is probably a long overdue explanation. Actually I can’t believe we haven’t talked about this before. But to save hurt feelings and offense, here’s the deal.

Since I’ve been sick, starting with generalized anxiety disorder and progressing to bipolar 2 disorder, I’ve hated the phone!

Well I hate the phone function of my phone. I actually quite like the rest of my phone, and we spend a lot of time hanging out, my phone’s operating system and I.

What I hate is answering the phone, dialing numbers on my phone, calls coming up on my screen, making calls from my phone, talking on the phone.

There are some known reasons why, and some unknown reasons why. I rationalize it as best I can, but at the bottom of everything there is this primal aversion that I can’t remedy; an involuntary reaction that overcomes some of my attempts to change it.

I guess part of the response is about uncertainty. If there is one thing that anxiety fears it is the unknown. It has such a field day when a thing is not known or not fully known. An unknown phone number coming up on my touch screen sends my heart rate, my pulse, my blood pressure, everything fight or flight about me into a tizzy and I put the phone as far away as I can be by arm’s reach and stare at it as it rings, until finally it stops. Then a missed call message comes up on my screen, then maybe a voice mail. It’s a lot to deal with! Suddenly my day’s calendar has exploded! By end of day I have to get up the nerve to open and read the missed call message, and, shoot me now, listen to the voice mail and hopefully not, but possibly, have to respond to it. Having a known contact’s number pop up on my screen isn’t much less exhausting. Answering the phone, opening my ears up opens a direct pathway to my heart by emotions foreign, unknown. Here’s hoping that responding to the message only takes an inner acknowledgement, please not a text and please please please not a phone call!!

So, the uncertainty. What is so uncertain? Everything, to anyone inclined towards anxiety. Who is it going to be, what are they going to want, how long is it going to take, where are you going to be when they catch you off guard? When are they going to call? What are they going to say, what will I have to say? Nothing can be known in advance, and therefore nothing can be controlled which is how I prefer to operate; controlled. I constantly worry about what emotional toll happenings around me will have on me. How much emotional money do I have today, and how am I going to spend it? Because once it’s spent that’s it for me, off to bed to recharge for as long as it takes. It’s inconvenient, but it works. So I feel that I have to carefully monitor the cost of happenings around me, and what capacity I have to pay for them. That’s just how it is.

That’s if I’m having an anxious day. On a depressed day, it’s much less complicated. The sheer act of reaching my arm out to my phone, having to lift the phone up, transport it to my ear, roll over so that I can put the phone to my ear…just far too many moving parts for me! I’m going back to sleep, they can call later. Or never. Let them leave a text message, a voice mail. Let them leave 10, I’ll deal with it at some undetermined later date which may never come, although that brings it’s own anxiety around having something outstanding awaiting my attention and the same what ifs as before, except I can control the when with a beating heart and shaking hands. So, same result, different motivator and vastly different range of emotions assailing me.

Please don’t take me wrong! I love that you care enough to call. The thought behind it is precious to me, always. Consider your good intentions registered and appreciated even if you never get through to me; even if I’m not thoughtful enough to call you back and tell you so. It’s not you that I have a problem with; I like you. It’s my insides that are roiling and writhing regardless of who it is coming across the telephone network. So many lovely friends, and I let you go to voicemail. It hurts me in the heart to do it, but my jiggling stomach and nerves win out most of the time. I just can’t do it, I just can’t pick up that phone! I do mean to get back to you, somehow. I think about it, about how I’ll let you know that I did get your message, I did note your call. I think, maybe I’ll text you later, or maybe this time I’ll manage to talk myself into calling you, you know, later. But maybe I won’t, and I’ll feel bad, very bad about it. Not bad enough to call, necessarily, but bad. I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this kind of treatment, but I so often just can’t find it in myself to do better. Lately I’m improving, but it’s early days, we’ll see how those nerves go.

So, I text. I love texting! I can read and reread your message to get the absolute fullest meaning out of it, then I can draft and redraft my response, leaving some waiting time in between if I need to ponder new information or digest new events. When I’M ready, and composed, and emotionally calm, and in control, I can text you a reply. No sudden information overload, or rush of emotions. No misspoken words, or “I didn’t mean it like that” moment. It’s just better!

I tend to mostly not pick up the phone, except to my husband who is always safe. Some closer friends also are on the okay list, but that list doesn’t apply at all times on all days so if I let you ring out, please don’t be upset or offended or think that you aren’t a great friend. I just don’t have the emotion to spend today, sorry. Not to suggest that you suck the energy out of me; all interaction does, it’s not personal. As a matter of fact, I tend to put my phone on silent. I also tend to leave it around the house, or in my handbag, or upstairs, or in my work locker; I don’t tend to carry it around with me. So it may be the case that I just didn’t hear your call, or see that you were calling, or maybe I did see it and just couldn’t make myself answer. Either way, I still love you! I’m just dealing with my demons!

If I answer a call, it’s like metaphorically throwing myself off a bridge. It’s a mentally drastic action that I can’t take back once I’ve hit that button, risky to my emotional state, putting myself out there exposed and open to injury inflicted by unknowing people. Will I be hurt, will I get through unscathed? Am I okay today and able to get through what this potentially might be? Or will I regret trying to be better by answering? I would like not to assume that everyone and everything is out to get me, and I don’t really. I just don’t have the emotional capacity that I used to have, that “normal” people have. So I tend to be overly wary, overly self protective. Maybe it’s over the top, maybe it’s insulting. But it is what it is.

I know it’s etiquette to return your call. About that. Deliberately dialing a number with the intention of talking to someone brings every bit of fight or flight flooding in, again! How many times can I take this experience without permanently depleting my adrenaline stores? Add to that an enormous lump in my throat so that I can hardly speak normally, and an overwhelming urge to hang up at every ring! If I actually get to say hello, it’s possibly been an ordeal! Mostly. I have good days. Better days. When it’s not so hard. But mostly I’ve had to take myself firmly to task, and work myself up to dialing back.

Here is a not uncommon scenario: I let the phone ring out cos I just can’t answer, then when I feel ready I text you back. You assume I’m free now and wasn’t before so you call me again. I let it ring out again cos you know, then I text you again. Until you get tired of calling me, I guess!

I suppose I’m trying to condition anyone who rings me to leave me a message. Then I can call back if and when I’m ever ready, or I can text you safely from the comfort of my own home, at the time of my choosing, controlled by me, no risk to my emotional self. Texting is good. It’s safe, I can compose what I want to say, I can respond at my leisure, no one rushing me or hassling me, it’s all in my hands, in my control.

But I guess sometimes I need to be challenged to do it the “normal” way, so don’t stop calling. I want you to stop in that I want to stop having to answer, but really it’s your choice and I’m trying to be better, to deal with it somehow. After all it’s the thing, it’s not you. You are my friend, and I like you, so I’m trying. Make me try.

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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!

Hindsight

Everything seems obvious in hindsight; we often remark on this theme:

If only I’d known that beforehand…

Well it all seems clear in hindsight…

With hindsight I would have…

But that isn’t how the world works.

We do not have a crystal ball with magical views of life and what is to come. We don’t have a written score or script to tell us what the path will be and when each event will occur.

We have the blessing of life, and breath, and relative health and wealth, and a brain and body and have at it! Go to and create out of what you have, what you will.

Some people argue, probably very rightly, that if we could see the path that our life would be, we wouldn’t be anymore equipped to face it, and the unknown bad moments ahead would ruin our happiness right from the start rather than at the time.

Imagine how it would be if you knew before you were born or in your early life which of all of your loved ones would leave you in death or in circumstances. Would you draw away from them to protect yourself? Would you cling to them to try to make the most of every moment? Either way, and I’m betting there are many other ways that people would respond too, it would make life unnatural I think.

It’s a moot point of course since it’s an impossibility that we could ever have that knowledge, or any other similar knowledge of the types of experiences that face us in our life.

I believe that God is in Heaven and has set us on earth for his pleasure. I believe that Jesus came from Heaven to earth to live as we do with all our limitations, temptations and experiences. I believe that He himself was tempted in every possible way that a human could be tempted and still never sinned so that He could buy salvation and eternal life for us by his sacrifice. I believe that God has planned every teeny tiny step of my life, of your life, of every life. And I believe that if we ask, and it’s right for us to know, that God can give us a glimpse of some past, some future, some present obscured moment to help us better understand and cope with our life as we live it.

Not our whole life’s map or pathway or span. Just a glimpse to help us on to the next step. In eternity I think we will see why everything happened as it happened for God’s good reasons.

You may believe the same. You may believe differently. You may not have a belief about a greater being. That’s up to you.

What I’ve been thinking about today is hindsight.

Imagine if, say, eighteen months ago I had been able to look into my crystal ball and see my future.

At that time, I had been suffering fairly severe abdominal distress for four months or so with frequent, sudden, violent and painful bowel motions each day, terrible wind and muscle spasms on and off. I’d had tests done for bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and a bunch of other bowel and inflammatory conditions.

I’d had to give bowel movement samples and urine samples and have my blood taken. I was stressed to the max over all of these potential diseases, besides being embarrassed and inconvenienced by uncontrollable bowel movements, appalled at having to take poo samples, and absolutely shamed at having to hand these over to my doctor! My work was affected because I’d have to dash off to the loo in the middle of something and come back fifteen to thirty minutes later exhausted and horrified once more. My home life was affected by me having this uncontrollable loud angry painful stenchy monster inside of me that wouldn’t be calmed down even at crucial moments.

I was feeling pretty crappy about the whole situation!

I was given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, a fructose elimination diet and a reassurance that I could return to the tummy specialist at any time in the next twelve months. So hindsight.

What if, at that point in time, someone had said to me, Danika, have you heard that irritable bowel syndrome is usually diagnosed when people have some kind of stress in their life that’s gone on for a while? Tell me about the things going on in your life that stress you out. What things are putting pressure on you at the moment? Is there a chance that you have been undergoing stress for some weeks or months? Tell me what we can do to manage or alleviate your stress.

If they had then reassured me that none of the diseases I’d been tested for were going to happen, had assured me of the success of the fructose elimination diet and how my symptoms would all go away, and referred me to have a chat with someone sympathetic and capable of helping me with my stress, maybe my path would have changed.

Then again maybe not; who knows?

If at that point in time they had said to me, Danika, here is your pathway for the next eighteen months: your bowels will improve on the new diet, but your immune system is compromised from stress so you’ll be more susceptible to minor but irritating afflictions like colds and yeast infections. You will be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and truly stress about EVERYTHING; the medications don’t work that well and the one that works best you’ll have to stop because of bleeding. While you’re off medication you’ll get sick again and you’ll be diagnosed with depression; the new medications won’t work that well and you will eventually have a nervous breakdown before finally they find out you have bipolar disorder. This diagnosis will change your life because you’ll start new treatments and they’ll work marvelously and you will get well for the first time in eighteen months!

What would my reaction have been? I’m guessing it would have been, and certainly was along the way, oh no that’s terrible, I can’t possibly have or go through that! Or would I have been far sighted enough to look through the pain to the end and decide to go with the pathway shown? Probably not, we humans with myself as the main example are pretty jolly keen to avoid pain of ANY kind!

Would I say, wait, I can’t let that happen, and take leave from work straight away to recuperate and sort out my life, removing all the major stressors (which I did six months later but maybe too late)? Would that knowledge followed by these actions have stopped me from continuing along the pathway? Would I have only got to halfway down and no further? Would anything have kept me from reaching the endpoint I got to?

What if they’d only told me part of it: you will change your whole lifestyle and method of cooking to eliminate fructose and will completely overcome your bowel issues; however not having your bowels to stress over will shift your conscious awareness of stress to the actual source: working with high workloads, no extra workforce in sight and in a group of similarly stressed colleagues that are piling additional stress onto each other. You will stress over your work ad nauseum and to the nth degree and it will severely affect your sleep, your motivation, your energy levels and your commitment to your job and profession and your general joy for life.

What would I have done then? Would I have looked more closely at my work situation and realised months earlier than in real life that I was putting way too much energy and thought and adrenaline into a dead-end? Would I have realised way sooner that the situation was never going to change and was only going to become more and more toxic as I advanced to a more and more senior role and shouldered more and more of the responsibility? Would I have cut my emotional and sentimental ties months before I did, and saved myself anguish and conflict? Would I have found it much easier then to walk away before the chaos descended? What if…?

What if they’d told me this much? You will seek help for this stress through the employee assistance program with a delightful lady who will be your mother and guide for the next six months. Then neutropenia and recurrent infections will send you to the doctor who will ask how do you do? causing you to melt down into a panic attack and this will start the diagnostic pathway to generalised anxiety disorder. You will learn many methods of controlling displays of anxiety but you still aren’t conscious of the severe degree to which your work is affecting you. This will come and you will start accepting that you need to leave this septic workplace and find work elsewhere. You will do your best to handle all of these things together with a friend your own age dying suddenly bringing death right into the room, your mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer with subsequent surgery, chemotherapy (in a naturopathic, homeopathic, everything alternopathic system!), your major supports in the workplace also having to leave for their health’s sake and whatever else this bully of a life has to throw into the mix!

Surely by now you would do the bleeding obvious: quit your job, look for a new one, cut ties and uproot yourself and do an anti seachange! Which you did, at this time. So would knowing earlier really change things? Would anything have made you move and change sooner? I just don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. There are so many combinations and permutations of thoughts and actions and decisions and autopilot and words and instincts. Can the past ever by viewed from the present, and a different path traced? Can we ever say for certain what would have changed the outcome? I don’t believe that we can.

What I can do is suggest; I can infer; I can consider it very likely. But fortunately or unfortunately there is no going back and changing the path we took. It’s done; it’s fixed.

Regrets? It takes some consideration but actually, I don’t think so.

I wouldn’t have wished myself a nervous breakdown. I didn’t enjoy all of the stress that was actually placed or that I mentally thought was placed on my metaphorical shoulders. I never ever want to be within 10 miles of suicidal ever again if possible be ANY means!

But, the slippery slope that I skidded down and down and down led me to make decisions I would never have made otherwise, to seek out opportunities and advancements and personal development that I wouldn’t have thought necessary in different circumstances, and to change my thinking, my behaviour and my take on life to (hopefully) come out at the end with a splash into a new and improved life!

It might seem strange but there is so much that I wouldn’t have today if it weren’t for this pathway that I may or may not have gone down if I’d been a different person or acted differently in the past.

All for the best? In hindsight, yes I think it was 🙂