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?

MYOB

[6th June, 2017]

Okay, wait. Just give me a minute, read on and it will all (hopefully) become clear.

“What other people think of you is none of your business” – various, or unknown

I had never heard of this philosophy until I needed psychology and psychiatry to fix my mind, or before I got into self improvement-type thoughts and ideas to do my part. Before the last 4 years, what other people thought of me was a major part of my daily life. Anxiety about who thought what about me, insecurity about how others saw me, fretting over any less than perfect social interaction, losing sleep over a joke at my expense, nightmares about potentially horrific social scenarios; I could go on. But I’ve tried hard to put these things in the past with helpful sentiments like the one above. It doesn’t always work, but it works a lot better than it did before I ever tried it! Now I try to mind my own business when it comes to my life, and just do my own thing.

It doesn’t always work out that you can afford to ignore other people’s thoughts about you. This last week I’ve been dealing with a not-so-hot probation review, a first  ever for me. It seems like it doubles as a first warning so its been pretty hard to process that one without losing sleep and getting pretty ruffled in my mind! More about that later. In the meantime its a challenge to work out what is my business to attend to, and what I can let pass through my brain and somehow spit out without it doing too much damage on the way through. And isn’t this the central dilemma of this philosophy? Applying it 100% would lead to big problems, but knowing what degree to apply it to a situation is not a science; its definitely an art!

So…any ideas? I’m still thinking.

For now, I’m going to go and do the things that I know I can do, and do well, which today is bird watching and photography. And isn’t this a clincher for bird of the day? It’s slightly out of focus here due to how WordPress handles cropping photos, sorry.

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Superb Fairy Wren, male at least 4 to 5 years of age

Something to enjoy, to feel good about, to distract from unpleasantness in life: that’s birding to me. Never mind that for about half of the 3 hour walk it was showering rain. Doesn’t matter that my socks and shoes got thoroughly wet and I squelched all the way back to the car park. Don’t worry that my legs got chafed and my feet got sore. Can’t help it that the long distance photos were all blurry and foggy from the rain and mist.

It was a day out of the house, where I had to get dressed, and eat meals, and talk to other humans; lovely humans who wanted to talk about our common interests and nothing else. Where all I had to do was mind my own business and attend to my own interests and needs. Somewhat selfishly I suppose, but in a therapeutic way. I saw 41 different types of birds myself in 3 hours, which has to come close to being a personal record. I walked for hours in picturesque surroundings which were beautiful, even through rain. And captured photos like the one above, like this one here. Photos that soothe my mind, pictures to look back on maybe, to publish somewhere possibly. And it made the day a good day. Today was a good day. Better than any day since that review. This is a good thing. So for now, I’m good. The rest will come back in time, and I’ll deal with it then, but for now I’m minding my own business.

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Red-browed finch

Downer

When  you suffer with anxiety or depression in any of their various forms, it doesn’t take much to get you down. In fact it takes a lot to keep you up!

I find this with a million stupid little things that turn a perfectly good day into a gloomy do! Usually its something that I’ve done that I’m annoyed at myself for, and I just can’t let myself off the hook about it. My husband can just cruise through these things and flick them off, just like water off a ducks back, as the cliche goes; it also helps that he doesn’t seem to make dumb errors in the first place! We have a joke that he’s always right…and it’s nearly always true! But I find myself berating myself over and over inside my head, mentally abusing myself for being so idiotic, self flagellating for my mistakes and lack of memory, or of thought, or of judgement. That just can’t make for a happy day.

I spent a lot of time with a psychologist when I first got sick and one of the main points of therapy involved reframing my thoughts, and interrupting a snowballing chain of thoughts. Reframing means to look at a situation and how you usually react, and try to consciously change your reaction to it so that you put yourself through less stress and hurt, and therefore are more well mentally. Interrupting a snowballing thought process means recognising when you’re starting down a line of negative thinking that is escalating to the dramatic and trying to stop it early, while its something that can be dealt with, before you’re almost to the point of a panic attack. I spent a lot of time working on this, and when you consciously and deliberately look at your thoughts, you do recognise a lot earlier where you can intervene and save yourself a lot of drama! Having said that, it does take a lot of energy to do this at the beginning. It gets to take a little less effort as you get more used to it, and you have less of these thoughts because of dealing with them in a better way. Eventually its more of a habit, but as soon as you think to yourself that you do it automatically and don’t need to put so much effort in, it can creep back in.

It is almost indispensable to have another person around who understands the work that you are trying to do with your head, and who can remind you what to do when you’re working yourself (unintentionally) into a bit of a tizzy! Someone who can remind you to breathe, that the drastic thoughts you’re having are just that: drastic thoughts; and of the techniques that you’ve learnt. I say it all the time but I have the utmost admiration for people on their own dealing with their beast. Kudos, and I don’t know how you do it!

Today started out as a great day. I had a good ride with my Wheel Women. We rode from Docklands to the pink lake in Westgate Park and back, and I had a superb raspberry jam donut (apparently it’s a “bombolini” according to this bakery) to top it off! I also had one of those San Pellegrino chinotto flavoured sodas in lieu of my usual Coke; that was not a highlight! Tastes like medicine!

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I was planning on doing a bit of extra riding today. I had planned to ride from Hawthorn velodrome to the start point of the Wheel Women ride, and then ride back there after the finish of the ride to add in some extra ks, but a little glitch with snoozing the alarm prevented me! Sometimes that would be enough to get me down, but I smiled through that mix up. I mean, just the fact that I wanted to do extra ks is a pretty good indicator that I’m sitting well up on the scale of blue.

I got to the start almost on time, and marvelled with everyone else at how stunningly beautiful Docklands and the water looked in the unexpected sunshine and after the rain. I really expected to get a bit wet with rain today after 2 days of LOTS of rain, but we lucked out. It was beautiful through the whole ride, and we agreed we could just keep riding and riding on a day like this where it was cool so we wouldn’t overheat, dry so we didn’t get cold with wet, not windy…perfect! Shame about me not getting up on time to do the extra riding; it would have been the ideal day for it. Oh well, let’s enjoy the ride I’ve got going on right now, instead of worrying about what I’ve missed. And there is some great re-framing and preventing of snowballing thoughts! And so the ride was just lovely!

And then, the error. The trigger.

Stupidly (it’s always stupidly by the way) I put my phone on the roof of my car.

I know!

Always a first. And last. Then some other first. Or another first if I just haven’t learnt my lesson. And so on.

3 blocks down the road from my car park, I went to put my phone in the holder and an adrenaline shot went right through my gut! I instantly KNEW what I’d done! On the bonus side, I’d been creeping along slowly since leaving the car park, hadn’t cracked 40kmph, maybe not even 30kmph…maybe it was still on the roof?!?

No!

Dulp!!

So back I go to re trace my wheels. I couldn’t get there fast enough; itching at every red light and pedestrian crossing until I got back to where I had been parked. There was a ute there now, so I got out and checked under it for my phone, once, twice etc. Then I carefully drove even slower where I’d driven already, retracing, scanning the street and gutters, wishing, hoping and more.

And back around again, and a third time! Nothing!! ARGH!!

And that’s how it starts. The adrenaline shot depletes a bit of your good mood, the persistent bad results of looking and not finding get you down more, knowing this is all your stupid fault hacks away at your confidence and suddenly you’re berating yourself and the day is not the same day it was before. It’s plummeting down through the levels of good into mediocre and before you know it, it’s not a good day anymore.

Although lately, I’ve been well, and more resilient. I knew this about myself, but this incident proved it without doubt.

I was SO bummed out over this stupid accident which should never have happened in the first place! How could I have been so thick as to put my phone on the roof?? I knew it was a bad idea, and I did it anyway. Who does that?? Typical! I make a rule, and I break my own rule, and of COURSE this is what happens! It’s okay to put the keys on the roof, because you can’t leave without them. But your phone? Idiot!

This is how my thinking goes, left to its own devices. Berating, accusing, bullying, incredulous of myself, throwing insults.

This is where the challenge lies. Putting my psychologist’s knowledge into practice in this moment and not letting the snowballing of negative thoughts get off to a head start. Re-framing the thoughts: instead of calling myself an idiot and stupid and dumb, realise that accidents happen (even if it’s often and always to me!) and this was just that, an accident, and give yourself a break!

So, having proved that my phone cannot be found and doesn’t seem to be anywhere that it should be, I head home. On the way I think of half a dozen reasons why having my phone right now would be so good: to find out the best route home, to take a photo of the city shining in the sun, to pop a starter note for this blog into my notes section, to check my calendar for what else I’m meant to be doing today, to use the Optus app to put my phone plan on hold, to call my hubby and let him know about my phone!! It really is my right hand and its going to be a bit painful without it. Stupid, stup…no, we agreed: not stupid; unfortunate. Accidental. Breathe.

But then, halfway through sliding down the blue scale into the depths, I slowed up and stopped. I stopped. That hasn’t really happened before. And it wasn’t like I put a heap of work into it, into stopping my thoughts. But my head is just in a better place lately, and this didn’t seem to be as big of a deal as similar events have been before, where I could wrap myself in guilt and grief for a whole day. Now I was stopped somewhere around the “okay” mark, still realising the inconvenience and bother I’d caused myself, but not fatalistic like many times before. What is this new feeling? Is this being well? Could it be?

I got home and flicked a message off to hubby about being out of phone contact. Then got out one of my comforters and I was pleasantly surprised that before long I was smiling and feeling quite serene about the whole thing! What is this? It was still annoying etc but it didn’t feel like it was taking up my whole world with distraught stress but like it was just one part of the picture. I like this feeling!

I believe that this is how you know you’re well. You can recover from events that happen, instead of collapsing into various levels of despair and misery. I’m not sure how this state came about, but I feel like the chemicals in my brain are finally aligned and things are just easier. It’s very exciting!! To say the least.

As to what happened with my phone? Hubby told me all the things I could do and so I went through Google’s ‘find my phone’ function online (just search for it) and I used that to lock my phone, to put a message on the lock screen to say please return my phone and to give the number to call, and to track my phone. I have to say that was the most satisfying and frustrating part, watching someone driving my phone along. It travelled the Bass Hwy towards Phillip Island via the koala park, and then stopping at the Nobbies, and I was unable to do a single thing about it!! But it was awesome to be able to watch them in the first place. I made a full report to the police and they were very helpful. But then my husband got a phone call from the person who picked it up: turns out they were a coach driver who found the phone in Docklands super close to where I’d driven past, and they planned to bring it back the next day! How kind and honest! So all’s well that ends well in the end. My husband biked from his work into the city in his lunchtime to pick up the phone, and everything is as it should be once again.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Do NOT put your mobile phone on the roof of your car in any circumstances!
  2. Do leave your GPS function on so that you can track your phone if you ever lose it, it was accurate down to 6 metres at one point
  3. Do be aware of Google’s find your phone functions
  4. Ideally always have your screen locked, but know that you can lock it remotely in an emergency
  5. One day, after so much pain, stress, medication, therapy and time, you will be well again. Believe.

Canberra Day Thirty Two

[Wednesday 12th October, 2016]

Bit of a nothing day, today. Ate too many lollies, slept in too long, didn’t eat breakfast til late morning, couldn’t really be bothered with too much. I did open up up all the blinds and sit in the morning sun for awhile at our little dinner table that has two candles for some anticipated romantic evening meal. The budding English tree at our back window and balcony is beautiful right now. Drove back “home” to collect some fridge and freezer stuff and the few odds and ends that we didn’t get yesterday. No sign of the cat but as soon as I opened the backdoor he shot in like a rocket!! While I was getting stuff out he was trying to climb in the fridge to get his daily chicken wing which is in a freezer bag. Anytime he hears plastic rustling he runs for the fridge!! So I gave him what I thought was a little bit of milk, but it took him forever to finish it off! I guess one tiny little tongue can only get a couple of mls each lick; fascinating to think about, really. Then I had to put him out, which he wasn’t happy about; as I was leaving he was sitting in the yard staring at me. I think I’ve gotten him into a bad routine of being inside during the day over the last month!

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Back “home” to unpack the stuff. I’m not enjoying the basement garage but I lived to tell the tale. I’ve got an alarm app; might be time to open it up just in case. My rational brain tells me nothing’s ever going to happen, but my anxiety has a whole other tale! You don’t want to hear that one. Anyway, it just is what it is; I can’t barricade myself in my apartment for fear of getting the car out of the garage!! Or can I? No I can’t! But I refuse to use it at night on my own!

So a nap, as always, especially today, then dinner out; I think we’ve found our local Viet place!! Yummy. Our gospel meeting, and time for bed. Phew. Exhausted by nothing. I needed that recovery day.

Canberra Day Twenty Two

Sunday 2nd October, 2016

What a day!

We started with a sleep in, and daylight savings. Tricky balance! As soon as the sun came through the curtains I was wide awake, rearing to go! There were birds to see and beaches and maybe whales. I was disorganised really and ended up driving around Narooma stopping here and there and everywhere. Meanwhile hubby was having a swim…probably I would have been better off with that, but it’s all experience. Then in typical fashion after I’d been up for an hour I started to flag! Hubby dragged me out onto our little verandah and that was nice! 22 degrees today, but not a hot sun, just perfectly pleasant temperature not too cold and not too hot. Sun, breeze, the rumble of 50 motorbikes leaving our motel for their daily drive!! I pushed through and did wake up a bit ready to face the day. There’s always some anxiety in me heading out to meet new people, to socialize, to be involved and participate. I guess there always will be. But it was at a low level today; thankfully. It just sedates me, stifles me. And I end up not going cos I feel sick to my stomach, like my heart will explode, like I’ll just collapse with the weight of it all. Which I did NOT want to have happen today! My husband is very good. Her reminds me that this is the same that always happens, that we were expecting this, that its not worse than last time, that its just how it is and I’ll get through it; I’ll be fine!

We came over to Narooma to visit a friend, and she was staying with a young family of 6; well 5 were there when we visited. We had such a great day together! Starting with our usual worship then steak and salad lunch with these 3 lively young kids and their awesome parents and our friend. Miss 4, the youngest girl, hasn’t quite figured out relationships and kept referring to my hubby as my daddy! That was a bit off-putting; I never quite got the hang of what she was asking me. Like at the picnic tea beside Wagonga Inlet: your daddy needs his thongs, where are they? Well I didn’t think her dad was wearing thongs, and besides that it was her daddy not mi…hang on, she means hubby!! Here are his thongs! Over lunch she was asking us if we had kids, to which I said no. Then she wanted to know if I had any grandsons!! I didn’t quite know how to answer that one! And so on. She has the confidence of a much older person and I just loved chatting with her! She doesn’t have all those inhibitions that I had as a kid and well into my teens; next thing you know she chatting for 20 minutes to some random girl and her dad at the swings in the park during our picnic!

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The view from the kitchen door at the family’s house where we had lunch – wow! It might not be the beach, but its pretty spectacular!!

Miss 10 was lots of fun, a real tom boy and had a couple of hard fought games of soccer with hubby, who reckons she has a real talent. She’s certainly passionate! When she got new soccer clothes and a ball for her birthday she slept in the clothes with the ball in her bed! How adorable! Her brother’s always telling her if she doesn’t do such and such he’s going to beat the pants off her or something similar (meant as a joke!) but actually I think he’d be hard pressed to win one over her! He’s fun too, I’m less sure how to bracket him cos he’ll happily play sport or sit and talk with the adults, and he seems quite techy. But hey, you don’t have to have it all figured when you’re young.

The parents were so lovely, just took us into the family and we felt so at home! Isn’t that awesome? We’re away from home, out of our state visiting a friend and make a whole family’s worth of new friends!! It was a really special day! So we had lunch with them, had an afternoon nap then went to the gorgeous old fashioned town of Central Tilba, just 20 minutes inland. I’ve been there loads of times as a kid and teenager so it was a real buzz to be back! It always looks the same, but I notice some of the shops have changed owners. We had a meeting in the town hall which is right in the main street, and wall to wall with other shops which was a bit of a new experience for a religious service. It was hot in there! Sweating hot! Then someone opened a window and there is nothing so delicious as a thin little breeze wisping around your neck and face after being hot like that! The day just kept getting better with the service, and with meeting up with old friends that I’ve always caught up with at Bega on our annual holiday to the Sapphire Coast. And a total surprise meeting with a lovely friend who was visiting family of hers that I know in Bega!! We’ve been trying to catch up in Wagga for ages, and of all things we came to Tilba and she came to Tilba and we met in the middle, sort of!! That was a real thrill!!

And to top off a brilliant day, we had a BBQ picnic with our friend and our new family of friends down on the edge of the inlet and it was so beautiful!! Have I conveyed my joy and enjoyment of this day? It truly was a beautiful day physically, but also emotionally!

Oh, and before our picnic we went up to the Bar Lookout and saw whales spouting!! Again!! How cool is it to be on the east coast at the moment??

R U OK?

Today is R U OK? day. It’s an annual day nominated by the R U OK? suicide prevention charity to think about the people in our lives and consider if they are okay. More than that, it’s a day to take ourselves in hand, try to be brave and open a conversation if we think someone we know is struggling. Of course this is something that should happen every day. But today is a day to revive our intentions to be a good mate to our family, friends, colleagues, anyone we bump up against in our daily lives. It’s a day to understand a bit more about what drives people to consider suicide, and to learn ways that we can safely help them.

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I’d love each one of you my readers to check out the R U OK? website. Just pick one topic and give 5 minutes of your time to taking on some new knowledge, or understanding, or strategy. It really can change and even save a life. It’s that important.

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Some of the topics I think are great are Mates, resources for every day, news stories and information, but I’m sure you’ll find the topic that makes most sense, or means the most to you.

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I’ve been a mental health advocate (at least I think I have been) for a lot longer than I’ve been ill with mental illness. By that I mean that I’ve considered mentally ill people the same as myself just with a condition requiring treatment, and tried to show to others that they don’t need to be feared. As a child I was used to being around mentally unwell patients. One family friend had schizophrenia and another had bipolar disorder. We saw them regularly, saw them better and worse, visited them in hospital and knew they were just people like the rest of us. And they were just the people who had known, obvious, must-be-treated illnesses. Who knows how many people in my acquaintance had depression or anxiety that was more or less invisible. I wouldn’t know. It was never talked about. If they were there, I never knew. Which is a terrible shame.

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So today is about conversations. I want people to have conversations. But first of all I want to tell you why R U OK? as a charity and a question is so important to me.

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When I was depressed or anxious, I felt awful. I was barely dragging myself around, limping from bed to work and from work to bed. My brain was either whizzing or sluggish; it wasn’t very useful. I felt like all of this must be pasted across my face, and that surely someone would notice today that I was struggling and ask me about it. It had to be written on my forehead, I thought, why can no one see it, why is no one wondering what’s wrong with me? I was just dying for someone to see it and come to my aid.

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But nothing happened. I didn’t want to be attention seeking and bring it up myself, I wasn’t one of those people who was always making a fuss. But I was in pain here, it must be obvious. I thought of a hundred ways to bring it up, but I just couldn’t. It was too obvious a way to start a conversation, there was no easy lead in.

“So you’re having tuna for lunch, that’s interesting, did you know that I’m depressed?”

So I dragged myself around, wondering and waiting and hoping that someone would do the hard part for me and bring up so I could let it all pour out. And do you know the funny thing? Having felt so isolated, like no one could see the real me inside, like I was alone in this experience and so on, once I was officially sick and had told people about it, I had several comments along the lines “oh I thought so” and “I figured something was wrong” and “I knew something wasn’t right” and “you didn’t seem like your usual self”. If just one, only one person had actually said that out loud, it would have been such a relief, a balm, a comfort! It probably would have meant that I got help sooner. It could’ve shorten the process, and I would have been so thankful. It would’ve meant such a lot.

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Speak up. If you can see a change, say something. If things seem different, say so. The worst that can happen is that you’re wrong, and they are just having a bad day or week, or are preoccupied. But how can it hurt? At the least, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your concern, the effort that you’ve gone to, your care. It would be a rare person who would take exception to your kind heart.

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The second part is knowing what to say. The reason for this charity’s name is that R U OK? is a powerful question. It might not seem like it, or seem much different to our usual greetings, but it works. We say hello, hi, howdy, how are you going? what’s up? how’s it going? how’s things? alright? and a hundred similar things so many times a day. And we’re programmed to response almost rote: good thanks, hey there, great, how about you? not much, well, yep and so on. So much so that if someone says something different to these, we can accidentally get caught saying good thanks before we’ve even registered that they’ve asked us what’s up?!

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But R U OK? hits a different nerve. It makes us really think about how we are, and it elicits an honest answer.

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So here’s what I want to do. I want you, one day over the next day or two, to count how many greeting encounters you have in one day. I consider one encounter to be one person say hello and/or how are you and the other person responding. Now I know for myself, home most days, there aren’t very many encounters. But for people working in retail there might be many, maybe more than what I’ve allowed for. I really want to know what your number is! Please get involved and let’s see how many times we bump up against each other each day.

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I’ll post the results as early as possible once you’ve had a chance to respond with data from your working life today and tomorrow. If you don’t read this until the weekend, give me your weekend numbers too.

My aim for this poll is to think about how many times we have a typical hi/how are you conversation. The next step after this is to consider what might happen if we changed ONE of these rote conventional habits into an R U OK? conversation. What could U achieve, how could U have an impact on someone else’s life? You already read my tales of mental illness, so you already have a kind heart and I daresay you want to help others too. This is the perfect chance, and I hope to take the baton and run with it.

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Change

I have some big news! HUGE news! We’re moving cities!

What?? Yep we’re moving interstate! Not what we thought we’d be doing for the rest of the year!

Why?? My husband has been chosen by his workplace for a project. It involves tailoring and implementing his workplace’s software, and the customer wants him on site to help smooth the whole process.

Where? We’re moving to Canberra!

When?? Well apparently his start date is still Monday 12th September, as it was set a couple of weeks ago when the project came up. Yep, as in next Monday!! It seems that that is still going ahead, despite the fact that his workplace still haven’t organized our accommodation at all!! They are meant to be covering our moving costs etc, but right now it feels like what move?! Are we really moving? In a week? Like next weekend??

How long? The project is meant to be for 3 months, but you know projects…we’ll see. We might still be up there in February!

So! Once the shock subsided, I think we like this idea! I think we like it a lot. So many new things to be experienced.

Of course the list of down sides can be significant: missing friends and family, feeling displaced or lonely, far from my doctors/support network, leaving my stuff behind etc. But let’s leave all that til it happens. Right now, the opportunities are spilling out in front.

It’s going to be exciting!

What better time to be an unemployed pharmacist with no job ties? Talk about silver linings! This has to be a pretty big one. No taking leave, or a leave of absence. No having to quit a job I like. I can just up and go at a moment’s notice; which as it turns out is just as well, since it might come down to that!

I’m going to be a tourist in a new city with unlimited time to check out all the fun places it has. I’m smiling spontaneously and getting a buzz just thinking about the endless possibilities, the sights I might see and the people I might meet. And I’m off the hook about jobs! It is a relief. I’m unlikely to fall across a short term part time job while I’m up there so free time! Like last time when I was off work, when I was still sick enough to not need to think about returning to work, but well enough for short daytime adventures. Like an organ concert, a blogging class, a river cruise, taking the tourist bus or the city circle tourist tram around the city, a couple of hours at the zoo or wildlife park, sketching in the botanic gardens…I had so many hobbies and attempts at hobbies and really tried to get around the city as much as I could for free or cheap.

Remember this, self, remember the excitement when your anxiety about not knowing when you’re leaving for this new city, when you need to be packed up by, where you’re going to be living, what you need to take, how you’ll get around, if you’ll miss home, if you’ll find new friends, if you’ll….argh!! The big ol’ IF!!

I don’t deal as well with change these days, not like I used to. I tend to get anxious and become stressed about the unknowns in life which I would have sailed right through before I got sick. I need more notice, more time to think and consider the options, and I’m generally just more of a pain in the butt about the details! I need details!! Ask my poor long suffering husband! I have to be reminded, and reminded that things will work out just fine and not to get bogged down in the minutiae of a situation. Just breathe, and things will be fine. Of course they usually are just fine, but my brain doesn’t keep a record of all the times things have been just fine. It still goes straight to the what ifs.

And now I’m feeling thoughtful and pondering after that little detour, instead of happy and anticipatory of the future! Annoying. Let’s get this back on track: excitement, happiness, adventure!

I started a list of things to do once I get there, whenever that turns out to be. A reminder of all that I can look forward to, and a prompt for me to get out of the house once I get there and make the most of my time.

I’ve looked up places to go bird watching and practice my photography. I’ve ordered some tourist brochures for all the typical things to do. I’ve thought of a couple of friends I have up there, as well as my brother and sister in law. I’ve started checking out women’s bike riding groups and places to go riding. I’ve planned visits from people who may not yet be aware that they are coming to stay! I’ve chatted to some people who live an easy weekend away from where we’ll be living. Actually there’s so much to look forward to if you put your mind to it. Which I try to do these days.

I’m still writing my packing list and checking it twice. But since nothing has been happening about accommodation and no new information has come up, I’ve sort of put the packing thing off until I know for sure there’s a furnished house with our name on it that I can direct my things to. I had my initial freak out about which knives we must take and which tea towels were essential, but a Valium and a good night’s sleep mostly calmed my heart rate and thinking speed down to normal levels about that, and I’ve only been a normal level of anxious since. Well I think so anyway.

I will miss being close to my doctors. I think that will be the hardest thing. I don’t want to find new doctors; I’ll stay with the ones that I have. That probably means a couple of trips back for my psychiatrist, and I’m not sure what I’ll do about GP appointments. I know I can always call them on the phone so that’s reassuring. I’ll need to get new scripts for everything before I go. I just have to remember that I’m only a phone call away, rather than thinking of it being a 6 hour car ride away! Or however long the flight is. But nothing is impossible really. Just have to think of another way around it.

All of this shows, I think you’ll agree, that I’m going pretty well right now. Being able to see the positives, the blessings, the advantages, is not something you can force while you’re unwell, however much other people try to get you in the frame of mind. It comes with time, and with health. I’m grateful to have been able to take this enormous change so calmly, for me, and so positively. It could have thrown me well off kilter and returned my to bed for days. I’m glad that’s not the case.

So, all things being well, I’m off Canberra to have a fun and adventurous time for a couple of months, and I’ll certainly be filling you in on my life living above the blue line!