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!

Upbeat

Well let’s try something a little more upbeat, shall we?

– Amy Adams, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

Time for some good news, don’t you think? The last 2 week’s blogs have been a tad depressing. But then again, that’s what we’re dealing with; depression. And it is depressing!

But, time for some good news. Just as long as you don’t think that’s how it actually works in real life. Good news following bad in a nice little ratio. It doesn’t happen neatly like that. The depressing topics can go on for quite a while without relief!

Thanks to my amazing psychiatrist I actually am feeling quite a bit better this week. My meds have been upped again and within 3 days of increasing the dose I was coming up from the depths and feeling better, and my energy and mood have kept on coming up. Thank goodness!

My belief has been renewed that it is possible to get properly medicated and live a reasonably normal life. I stopped believing over the last little while, thinking I was living a doomed life. I have been reminded how closely the analogy of diabetes fits my disease. When a diabetic’s sugar levels go off, they feel awful but they go to the doctor and the doctor changes the level of medication. I just forgot that I need to go to the doctor and ask for more meds when I start sinking; I tend to think it’s on me to fix myself, as if I could! I’ve been reminded very clearly this time that when I’m struggling, it’s not just that I’m struggling, but that there’s something chemical going on in my brain that needs a doctor to sort out. I need to recognize it, and ask for help. That sounds obvious, but it’s not obvious to me, not when I’m sick. I just blame myself, feel like I’m not doing enough to be better, and I hibernate.  So I’m reminded it’s the level of chemicals in my brain that are dictating how I’m going, and when I need more, I need more and I need to ask for it. I’ll try to remember for next time…

I have faith again now, faith that things can be better, and will get better, and will be better. Something I lost lately.

But if I wasn’t feeling better, I was planning to write something “positive” anyway.

You know, so you wouldn’t worry. So you wouldn’t think it was all bleak and dark. To balance out the last two posts. To alleviate your concerns and to reassure you that everything is okay. Because that’s what we do, or at least that’s what I do. People who are emotionally and mentally unwell.

I want you to know when things aren’t going well because I believe in my friends and family knowing the truth. I want you to know, I really do. I think it’s good for a lot of people to know how these things work; so you understand, and maybe so it’ll help you help someone else.

Until all the condolences roll in and everyone is so worried. Until dear friends get scared, and fret about how I am going. Then I think about you, and how it’s affecting you and it makes me anxious, thinking of more questions and concerns, and I back peddle. So sometimes I tell you its all good so you can relax. And so I can relax, and I’m no longer fielding afraid questions from loved ones. My husband says this is insulting to people. To coddle them, and not let them in on the whole truth. To decide what they can handle and what they can’t. To give them the amount of truth that I believe won’t overload them, and by extension, me.

I’m sorry to do this! I don’t mean to take control of the information stream, or insult you, or lie. But it quickly becomes too much for me. Despite this, I don’t want you to change a thing. Please don’t stop feeling concern, or asking me about what’s going on. I’m just letting you in on my crazy brain!

But I think this is a very common thing in people with mental illness. I read a piece recently about “smiling depression” and so many times it IS easier to smile. I try not to be fake, but it’s still my fall back, the easier option.

It’s not about restricting your access to information about my illness and how I’m going. Like I said, I want you to know; at least theoretically. I have a limited capacity for emotion, including other people’s, when I’m not well. This is why sometimes I still say “fine”, “okay”, “not bad”, “good thanks” to skirt the question of how I’m going. Because when I’m really not well, just a simple “how are you?” is enough to bring me to tears, and have I mentioned how much I hate crying? Especially in front of anyone else! But I’m trying to be honest and open, so bear with me.

Sometimes I want you to think I’m okay, or not so bad so I can slink back to bed without attention.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate your concern.

I want to promote understanding of mental illness, but sometimes the kind concern and loving questions, while so touching, are a lot to deal with when I’m operating at low emotional capacity! When I’m better it’s a lot easier to process and when I’m well it’s easy, just the same as you or anyone, but of course the same thoughts and  questions don’t apply then.

But I am well this week. I’ve got energy, motivation, stamina. I feel good! Everything is easier. I’m doing more, and it’s draining me less, and not exhausting me just to move. My husband is happy, the house is in a little bit shape, things are just good. So none of this is fake. These are the real positives that I can see clearly with my eyes right now. Yay!

  • I’ve gotten out of bed every day this week, and sometimes before noon! Really!
  • I’ve talked to a potential employer via email and on the phone, and done an in-person job interview
  • I’ve done groceries, dropped off some clothes to be mended, washed and dried sheets, posted some clothes for refund, tidied up my side of the bedroom, even cooked dinner one night! Don’t get your hopes too high though, that’s about all I’ve done!
  • I’ve been to my GP for an appointment, to a doctor for an ultrasound, to a careers counsellor for help getting a job, and to KFC when I couldn’t figure out what to eat for lunch! That’s a lot of outings and socialising for me! On the days I went out, I went to bed when I got home, usually for an hour and a half…but I didn’t nap on the days that I didn’t go out, so that’s something
  • All this out and about meant I got some sunshine on 2 separate days. Actually on the skin sunshine!

So that’s me for this week. It’s not a lot from the viewpoint of my old life, but these days I take whatever I can take, and this is relatively awesome!

How about you? How are you? I’d love to hear from you.