Finding the light

Hello friends,

I’m back. Sorry about missing the blog last week! I tried. I came up with one draft, then discovered it was totally over-dramatic and not what I wanted to say. I did another one, but when I read it back over it just didn’t really seem like much of anything! So, here I am with two discarded drafts, no post for last week, overdue for this week and next week is coming around fast! A bit frustrated!

Why am I so stuck? Why am I spinning my wheels? I want to write about suicide, but this time it’s real, somebody that I used to know. And despite however much distance you’d think “used to know” would put between me and this event, it has gotten under my skin.

For people who suffer with mental illness, hearing about another person’s experiences can be a trigger for a worsening of your own condition. We’re so susceptible to worsening when we’re unwell. It’s different when we’re doing well; we’re resilient and strong. This is especially true abut suicide. Talking about suicide, hearing about suicide, reading about suicide can be a trigger for someone who is unwell to start thinking in circles, over and over about suicide. That’s not to say that someone can cause another person’s suicide. But to a person on the edge metaphorically, it only takes a tiny bump to over-balance.

I’m not suicidal. I’ll clear that up now, and relieve any worried minds. I’m actually doing quite well, but this event has given me pause to think about not being well. It’s quite a long time since I have been suicidal. I have been very fortunate that suicidal thoughts have only been a small part of what I’ve experienced over the last 3 years. I tend towards grey days, nothing dramatic. But still, hearing about someone I’ve known, someone who was one of my first childhood friends, someone who I grew up with ending their life creates a moment of questioning of the situation and myself.

Of course there’re so many questions that come with any death by suicide. Thankfully in this case some of those were answered before the last day. The family were well aware of the mental illness and very supportive of their son, including providing a flexible workplace. Relationships were good, things had seemed to be going well. But there was no questioning why he died because the answer was clear: mental illness. Of course there was the question of could we have done more? But the answer is no: medications, counselling, support all given in full. Just an overwhelming sense of wishing it hadn’t ended this way this soon, but feeling that maybe it couldn’t have gone any other way.

Could something have stopped it happening that day? Yes. Would that have stopped it ever happening? No. Could we the long lost friends have done more, kept in touch? Yes. Would it have changed anything? No. Because it’s not about us, the friends and family. It’s about the mental illness battle ground in a person’s head. However much we love someone and want to help them, we can’t climb inside their head and fight the fight for them. We can only do what we can do from the outside.

Someone with mental illness has different questions that are all for themselves. This person had depression, I have depression; he ended his life, so where does that leave me? If it took xyz for my friend to take his life, what would it take for me to get to that point? They took their life this way, could I do that; if not, what would I do? It’s like being inactively suicidal and contemplating ideas and theoretical points of view, but you have no plan to carry them out; no active suicidality (the medical term for being suicidal). It’s like ruminating on whether I’ll get to go on holidays this year, and if I do where will I go, and what luggage will I need to pack? When patients are actively suicidal they will often have their will written, letters completed to their family, plans for handing over the business and literally will have signed themselves out of their life having hoarded enough poison, collected enough rope, built up the nerve to jump in front of the train etc. Then again sometimes it’s pure impulse on a background of ongoing suicidal thoughts that are just eating away at your will to live. A tipping point is reached, and that’s that.

So I’ve had a period of questioning myself: how am I? Am I doing okay? Are things still under control like they were before I heard the news? I run through my “on the edge” symptom check but there are no tell tales signs; maybe I’m a bit more shaky in my left hand, maybe I’m a touch more anxious, a bit more fixated on anything changing. But after giving myself a few days to take the impact of the news, attend the funeral and debrief, things are okay. I’ve gotten through a potential trigger okay.

Which is bully for me! For the family, the friends grieving now and for a good while to come, where is the light? Where are they to look to find something good out of this? One place that I’ve found comfort is to see the men and boys in my old friends life passing the okay sign around on Facebook in a campaign to vow to listen to each other, to talk about mental illness and suicide, and to try to prevent this from happening again. This has to be one of the best ways to commemorate a death by suicide; a pledge to fight it’s influence and talk about it openly.

I know that its difficult for people to talk about this awful thing that’s happening in their heads. And it’s hard for others to hear what they have to say about it! But we have to be brave; be strong and talk about it. Bringing it out into the daylight is the only way to make it less scary, and to take away its power over us. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And remember the souls who couldn’t fight it’s power anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t mean it or even want it, but they were overpowered. Remember that. They were fighting the battle and lost, through no fault of their own. Remember them. Talk about them. Share their story. There is someone out there that you can help if you talk about suicide.

Check out Conversations Matter for videos, fact sheets and resources for talking about suicide.

Use one of the umpteen helpline services that are available in this country. You don’t have to have a mental illness to call. You can call to talk about a friend, someone you knew who died, or just to learn more about mental health. So many people are reluctant to call, so go ahead and buck the trend! Call! Ask questions, learn things, talk to someone on the end of the line anonymously before you talk to a friend. Whatever you do, do something to improve awareness of suicide and prevent it occurring again.

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

SANE 1800 18 7263

Lifeline 13 11 14 (crisis support and suicide prevention service)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide)

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (5 to 25 years old)

Victorian State Suicide Help Line 1300 651 251

Mensline 1300 78 9978

Veterans and veterans families counselling service 1800 011 046

Qlife 1800 184 527 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities)

Carers Australia 1800 242 636

Many more helpful phone numbers and web sites can be found at Mental Health Commission’s Get help page

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Departure lounge

This week was always going to be a week of goodbyes.

After my sister’s wedding last week (photos to follow!!) my cousin, one of the bridesmaids, flew out to France for an open dated holiday in her favourite country on earth. Having been there before and having good French language skills, she is planning to spend this holiday off the beaten track. We’ll miss her at our weekly gathering point, Grandma’s fabulous Sunday lunch roast and dessert! More for us!

Then of course, my newlywed baby sister and her hubby are flying back to Latvia today! I say back because that’s where he was born and grew up. Their plan is to be there for 4 years because they are both planning to start and finish their undergraduate degrees there. So It’s a big goodbye!

I don’t think that any one of us has grasped it yet, especially Dad who wonders why everyone is asking him if he’s sad to see her go! Not much to wonder at, but he’s fixed himself in the mindset that its exciting and happy to see her marry her love and move off into their new life. We’ll see how long that lasts once she has actually gotten on the plane for 4 years!

Of course the two students may scrape together enough money to come back to Australia, and most of us are planning a visit at some point but it’s still a long time. Mum and Dad and her have been the only ones at home since my brother moved to Melbourne for uni 3.5 years ago, so I think they’ll really notice her absence around the house.

Then my teacher brother-in-law is flying to England for a year on Thursday! How’s that, sister and brother-in-law, plus brother-in-law, flying out in the same week! It makes more sense when you know that the school year starts on the 1st September across the UK and Europe. So for a teacher, and two students, it makes sense to move with a few weeks grace to get settled into accommodation etc. A year isn’t so bad, there’s an end point to look forward to. But it’s so hard to imagine his Mum and Dad without him. He’s also the youngest and it’s been the three of them since his older brother moved away to do his apprenticeship YEARS ago. Not sure how many, but it could be eight or so years. They’ll definitely be looking for him around the house!

So those are the scheduled departures. We’ve had the goodbye parties, given them advice, wished them farewell. Everything according to plan and tradition, and everyone has had their part in it.

I want to add one more departure to the list.

This was not a scheduled departure. There was no celebration beforehand where people got together with the person leaving and shook their hand and talked and laughed and got their fill of the person departing that would tide them over til they next met. No advice was given about the next step of the journey about to be traveled by the departing and how to traverse it.

I think that most people involved felt that this was a tragic departure, in the literary sense that tragic means inevitable.

I want to wish my own farewell to RT who departed his life this week. You know when someone starts a sentence and they haven’t finished yet, in fact they’re only in the middle but you know the end is going to be something you don’t like? That’s how I heard about it. There is no other way to hear it, other than someone telling you but the hearing of it is never easy.

Many months of a terrible depression preceded this departure, I heard. A mighty, mighty battle has taken place. That battle involved good friends doing their best, multiple inpatient psychiatric admissions, previous suicide attempts, medications, and more that I don’t know about.

In fact I don’t know this person, only in passing. I would recognise him on the street, we’ve maybe exchanged a dozen words in total in our lifetimes. Every year while I was growing up we would spend 3 Saturdays in October at a farm where our annual Christian convention was held, getting it all ready. Our family was always there, he and his wife were always there. They were the cool, young couple that girls growing up through their teens can admire. That was the full extent of “knowing” him.

But there is this phenomenon I’ve heard spoken about where people can experience grief for someone they don’t know, or have barely met, or celebrities etc that is disproportionate to their relationship with that person. Sometimes it can be as profound and take as emotional a toll as the death of a family member. Like when the news of Elvis having left the building descended on the world. Tears and sobbing from people who “knew” him from a concert, a tape, magazines. It’s valid.

I don’t think that’s what is happening here. I think what is happening is several months ago a mutual acquaintance described to me the suffering this person was experiencing as a result of depression. And it resonated with me very strongly because of my experience with depression. I had amazing support and all the help that I could possible require and there were days when I didn’t think I could survive.

As far as I heard, this person had no one at home, some friends around town and family nowhere near by. I could totally connect with his deep need for support and love and care, and the absence of these needs being met. No amount of psychiatric care can compensate for having a partner, family member, very close friend who “gets” you, who understands your suffering, who can be there for you to help you keep safe, who feeds you with love and care and hope, and reminds you again and again that you can fight this war to a victory and they will help you all the way.

His story just made me want to reach out and say, I feel for you, I’ve been where you’ve been and I know how awful and hard and dark and hopeless it is, and I want you to know that I came through and it is worth the fight. Or something like that.

That’s what I wanted to say. But after his wife left, his whole world crumbled, he had nothing to live for on this earth. Because I think kind honesty is the best way to support someone, I don’t know that I would have been able to say convincingly that it’s all worth it in the end, keep fighting, one day this will be all behind you and be a distant bad dream and you’ll be glad that you fought and won.

When you have nothing to live for on earth, it’s a very hard situation. I had everything to live for, and it was a hard, uphill, difficult road, and still may be in the future. But with nothing to live for, why would you try? Why would you fight for, scrabble for grip to, desperately cling to, and give your all to hang onto life? What for? Giving everything to hold onto life that doesn’t feel worth living, that holds searing pain, awful agony, sorrow, struggle, being alone, without love etc. All that terribly difficult effort while drowning in molasses, and what for? That’s what being suicidal is like.

And so he left us. It was inevitable. It’s sad, because nothing more could be done to hold him here on earth, because he couldn’t find enough to hold him to life. But I strongly feel that now he has peace and rest from so much awfulness. And how blissful will that peace and rest be, after so much difficulty on earth.

I have more thing to say. I believe in God, in Jesus, in eternal life. I’ll write about this point more one day. God’s commandments in the Old Testament were, thou shalt not kill. And I think that would have included ourselves. But the New Testament came in Jesus who has showed his great love and mercy. I believe that although we would want to help someone not to end their ow life, when someone is hurting so much that they can’t handle it anymore, Jesus understands and forgives. He knows what we have gone through and why we have reached such a point of desperation. He offers his help and grace in our lifetime, which is promised to be sufficient for us, but in our agony we can’t see much beyond our hurting self.

I feel that our mental health and our spiritual health are two disparate things. But they get confused. We don’t confuse our physical health with religion. We don’t expect our faith to help our gout. But our mental health has foggier borders. Our religion can be a help to us in all situations, but it’s not a cure for any illness, and depression isn’t a religious issue; it’s a medical issue.

I say this just to make the point that when someone we know hits the threshold of what they can possibly bear and can no longer suffer their daily life, let’s recognise that they have succumbed to a medical condition that was unable to be sufficiently treated with the medications and therapy that we have available these days. Let us never consider that their faith wasn’t enough, or they lost their religion, or they somehow should have found a way to survive. Suicide isn’t a comment on the sufferers ability, but the disease’s severity.

Farewell, fierce fighter. I recognise how much you fought, and I’m sorry that the disease was too strong for you. You will be missed. But I will remember your story. I won’t forget your bravery.

To all of you in this post, til we meet again.

I’m back…

[Started on December 9th]

“I’m back, baby doll…”

-one of favourite quotes from How I Met Your Mother

I’m baa-ack. It’s been a month, apparently. It felt a lot longer! I only know this fact of it being a month since I was here from opening my blog today for the first time since … so it tells me … the 9th of November.

Wow.

And during that time I actually thought up zero topics, had zero inclination to write anything and was pretty much happy to climb into a hole and be a hermit for the rest of my natural life. But the light has broken through and here I am.

It’s been a very full month. I’m trying. A trip away to Werribee, days out of the house doing stuff, hanging out with girlfriends, some actual real live housework. There were, surprisingly, some pretty great times.

And then there were days when I wore my pajamas until 5pm and only left my bed to eat. But you know, looking for the upside!!

There was one amazing week where I thought I’d finally broken through the depression glass ceiling into what normal life could be like, and I loved it! So did my GP: ‘Imagine if this is how life could be from now on? That would be f*@%*^# awesome’. His words, not mine! Just to clarify. But yes, why yes, yes it would.

Sadly for me and anyone my life bumps up against, it was mania.

Oh mania, you heartbreaking devil you. You get us so excited and hopeful and relieved and let us sniff “normal” for 5 minutes, before depression overcomes us again and we all sink back into the swamp!

Normal, or a bit more overdone than normal; either way, it’s a nice change from blergh, uff and erk!

But it wasn’t devastating when mania went this time. Well not as devastating. This time. I’m getting more resilient gradually.

[Updated from here in later December but the computer wiped all my additions and made me so angry I gave up on it! Then I vowed to complete it on January 9th but when the date came around I was staying in a motel without WIFI…ahh the horrors of modern life! So here I am, Feb 9th…and finally I’m back! And saving my draft after every word!!]

Thankfully, bit by bit, episode by episode, high by low by high by low I am taking it less personally, getting less excited and less distraught when my brain chemistry flicks the switch and lands me somewhere I wasn’t prepared for.

So says my mouth, and my head. So I wish, so I hope. And maybe sometimes that’s the case, that I’m less wrung out over it. Maybe.

But actually now that I’m slipping down the slidey slope again I find myself not so okay with that. I don’t want to go down there again. I don’t want to be like that again. But it seems that I’m not being consulted in the matter of what goes on in my own head.

Ironic, isn’t it? My own head, taken hostage by chemicals. Chemicals that don’t even have brains or thinking power or motives – but they pack quite the punch! We’re doing all we can to oppose them but it’s turning out to be more of a war than just a battle.

I’ve been told over that I have tricky brain chemistry. At first I thought it was one of those placating remarks all doctors make to help ease you through the rough period between the diagnosis of depression and the onset of full medication effect, which can be up to 6 or 8 weeks at times in some people.

Although I guess I didn’t hear it said first until I was trying the 5th antidepressant; but I definitely needed to hear something at that point to convince me that I should still hold hope that this one would work! My doctor told me that every time an antidepressant didn’t work, we were one step closer to finding the one that would; we were one step closer to getting better; the depression was one step closer to showing us how it was working and what we could do to oppose it.

That’s a lot of talking for a chemical to do!

Time and experience have unfortunately proved the fact to be true. I have tricky brain chemistry. It’s difficult for the medications that we have available to match the chemicals that are lacking from, but should be in, my brain keeping me from becoming anxious, depressed, manic or a swinging monkey between all three moods!

I’d love to be one of those people who gets diagnosed with depression, gets prescribed whatever antidepressant their doctor has on their mind that week, tolerates it well and after a year or so with successful treatment and other supports, undertakes a careful withdrawal of their medication under supervision of their doctor and continues on with their life drug/medication free. Not trivialising their sufferings, just envious of their rapid and successful long term improvement and freedom from medications.

Of course that doesn’t happen in bipolar disorder; only in depression. Bipolar is not a condition that remits; it’s a life sentence. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s quite unlikely that I’ll ever be free from taking medicines.

But it’s the dream, isn’t it? To be medication free, drug free, not drug dependant; isn’t that the dream of any person tied to medication?

As a pharmacist I have to ask every person/patient I deal with if they take medications. Apparently this is the most annoying question that a person could possibly ever ask! Or maybe I’m just asking it wrong; that’s always a possibility.

When I was working, a distant memory just now, I’d get 50 people a day saying “I’m not the kind of person that takes medication”, “I’m not the type of person who takes tablets”, “I’m not some kind of druggie”! Or my personal pet favourite hate: “I don’t like taking pills”.

Really? Well who does like taking pills? And what exactly is the type of person that would take medications? I guess having to take medications to get by makes me more sensitive to these types of comments spoken from ignorant minds. It’s obvious that they’ve just never given the issue more than a seconds thought, or they’re basing it on inappropriate pill popping they’ve seen on TV.

But just a suggestion, if you ever come across me actually working as a pharmacist in the indeterminate future, please just answer no or pass me a printed list of all your meds with doses, thank you so kindly!

 Moving on.

Tricky chemistry, multiple antidepressants, additional diagnosis of bipolar on top of depression and anxiety.

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder, after the initial shock and rejection of the idea as stupid and crazy (oh the irony of calling it crazy!), was actually not that surprising, looking at it rationally. The failure of antidepressants to work or to work fully is actually an indicator of bipolar disorder, which I knew somewhere in my mind from when I studied mental illness as half of my post graduate studies. Another irony!

What if I’d had the clarity of thought to see it that way back when? To look inside my brain in a rational, systematic, logical manner. But that’s not how mental illness works. It takes a regular brain and clouds it with so much doubt, fear, hurt, pain, sadness, hopelessness etc that you just can’t see.

I’d go to my doctor and say, I was so bleak and black yesterday I nearly couldn’t stand it. And he’d say, how many Valium did you take?

Valium. Brand name of diazepam, used in my case as a sedative and anxiolytic, remover of anxiety and worry.

And every time he said it, it would be such a revelation to me: oohhhh! RIght! I should have taken a Valium! That would have made me feel better. Of course, how did I not think of that? I say every time because there were quite a few times he had to say that to me!! And I’m a pharmacist! Turns out being a good pharmacist doesn’t always extend to yourself! Luckily my husband is happy to jump in and now whenever I’m complaining of my mood he puts on his doctor voice and asks me, did you take a Valium??

I had this sanctioned stash of tablets capable of taking a stressed-to-the-eyeballs or suicidal girl and transforming her into a warm, fuzzy, calm girl ready to take a nice comfy little sleep to get her through the hours until her chemistry improved or she crawled into the doctor’s office, totally empty and out of ideas and ready for the next injection of hope, help and medication changes.

I had it. I still have it. 13 months later! I think I’m getting better at remembering how to render psychiatric first aid to myself when the complicated muddle of meds I’m on just isn’t cutting it, or the depression is just a bit too strong, or the mania is making my limbs dance a jig of agitiation. Or everything is just all too much and the circuit breaker has to be activated to prevent the whole place from burning down! Metaphorically, not literally.

 Because there are still those days. Bleak days. Blank days. Flittering days. Storm in a teacup days. Meltdown days. Frustrating days. Agitated days.

There are less of them. They come less often. They do less damage. They don’t get full control of me. But they do come. They’ll always come.

The key, as they always say, is management. So here we are, my and my team, managing. We’re managing. And that’s pretty great!

Thank you for taking the time to read my great big long shambles and hope to chat again soon x

Unwilling or unable?

Unwilling, or unable?

This is a difficult call to make.

It’s so subjective.

All that we have to go on is my opinion versus your opinion, with whatever evidence each of us has gathered plus whatever balancing knowledge we have at the time the call is made.

It’s something that I’m still battling with, and because I’m battling with it, I assume that there are others out there fighting with themselves over this. I don’t know for sure if there are, but I’m writing this anyway, for me and for anyone else who gets it.

Before I got sick. Such a statement! Also hard to define but I’ll use it anyway.

Before I got sick, I found this line easier to determine.

I’d get home from work, tired out and ready to relax and the thought of having to get together the where withal to get up and going again seemed impossible. Everyone has felt like that at some time.

So it comes down to a battle of the will.

I know I’m tired, will I allow myself to sit down and relax or will I get myself up and going to an exercise class I love and know I will enjoy/the supermarket for groceries to make a better dinner/the week night Bible study meeting which I’ll feel so refreshed after?

Will I, won’t I, will I, won’t I? It was a mental battle. From experience I knew that if I pushed myself I would get through whatever it was that I had planned on doing. It wasn’t physically impossible despite my tiredness. It was a matter of setting my mind to it being a non-negotiable task and doing it! Like work. You don’t wake up in the morning and think will I, won’t I go to work. You just get up, do what you have to to get organised and go!

Well at that stage I did. As the stress of my last job accumulated and compounded I did find myself waking up with a feeling of dread (hello anxiety!) and thinking do I really have to go? What if I just don’t go? What if I say I’m sick? What if I just stay in bed instead?

I guess I should have known that that was something else. That this was more than usual reluctance to get out of bed. I’ve always been a mid-morning person. Getting up has never been easy, but then again it had never been like this. Lying in bed watching the clock tick around to when I should be leaving. Feeling dread and stress and fear with a little smidgen of hope build up until I thought they could physically burst out of my chest.

But in our house growing up, the words “lazy-bones”, “wuss”, “sook” were tossed about like “hello”, “goodbye” and “how are you?”. As a consequence of those terrible words being acceptable to apply to children, I always question my own judgement towards myself, and wonder if indeed I am being a “wuss”, a “sook”, “weak”, “lazy”, lacking in having a backbone or courage or dedication or commitment or appropriate drive?

I think I’m learning these days to give myself more credit. To remember that I am a dedicated, committed professional who knows her responsibility in the workplace and fulfills her duties creditably; who wouldn’t “slack off” or “be lazy” or “not pull her weight” unless there was a solid decent reason. All words that no one else has used against me by the way, except for my old inner voice that I’m slowly chipping away.

I’m learning to know my limits and to communicate these to others. Not with the phrase “sorry to be a wuss but…”! With the phrase, “I have done x and y and z today and I’m pleased that I have accomplished so much. That is all that I can manage today. Thanks for your understanding”.

I think it’s called being assertive. Having been terrified of confrontation all my life I never really got the practice of asserting myself. I knew the theory but that only gets you so far. These days I’m realising that I am a person with valid opinions and thoughts. I’m finding that communicating this directly to others results in a better outcome for everyone. And I’m not so fearful of confrontation anymore. Because now I know that I am an equal part of the conversation/discussion/interview. I’m not the weaker part having to make up to the stronger part anymore. These are truly great days for my personal development!!

But it still comes down to this: what and where are the limits?

When is it enough without being too much? When could I push myself more? When am I taking it too far and risking exhaustion? Do I have more energy than I think I have? Could I maybe do just a little bit more, or should I call it a day?

How can anyone know the answers to these questions?

And then there are the other factors: I just don’t feel like talking to anyone today so I don’t want to go, I feel very anxious about going so I think it’d be better if I stayed home, I just can’t get my head together to go today, I’m too drowsy/sleepy/exhausted/tired.

I’ve been told to push myself, but to be careful not to exhaust myself. I’ve been told to learn to know my own body so it will tell me when enough is enough.

Who teaches these things? How can I learn these things? How can I know the difference between my body being tired and my mind being tired?

My body tricks me all the time. I’m sitting here an hour after a good dinner and my body is telling me it’s hungry. I know its not, but that’s not how it sees the situation! So how can I be sure about my body telling me when it has had enough? It feels like a marathon getting up, showered and dressed some days; my body tells me that it enough but surely that can’t be the limit.

If I can’t tell the limits, how can anyone else? I suppose this is my main point after all. Here’s me: I’ve got these limitations of conditions, medications, recuperation. How, considering all the variables, can any other person tell me what or how much or where or when I should be doing what I’m doing?

Not that many have tried, to give credit where credit is due. Most people have been endlessly helpful, patient with me in my disability, considerate of my limits and thoughtful of me in the middle trying to make me work.

I really do appreciate that!!

I guess it’s always a work in progress. The fact is that I can’t do everything that I would like to do; that’s just how it is right now. I am learning to accept these facts as they are without judging them or myself; that’s huge progress!

With the energy and motivation I do have, I do what I can. I get tired and worn out faster than I’d like. I don’t have the stamina I want. Some days I wake up and it’s just not my day. Then after a nap suddenly I’m firing on all cylinders again. And tomorrow, I might be rearing to go! I just don’t know, and can’t tell. It’s a trying, sometimes frustrating game trying to figure out my agenda for the week, or even the day, not knowing when or how or what I’ll be like with any definite prediction.

Another thing that it is very hard is to differentiate between what the condition causes and what the medication causes. Am I suffering from a side effect, or is this just the part of the condition that we haven’t got under control yet? I think only a trained doctor could answer that with any certainty, and maybe not even then.

So, in the meantime, I hope I’ll do what I can, but not too much, and hopefully figure out just what that is!!

Suicide *warning: the following material may be very disturbing*

Author’s note: I wrote this piece two weeks ago. Then while re-reading it prior to publishing I had some reservations. My personal editor (aka my husband) also had some reservations about how it would affect other people so we decided to wait a while and see if we really wanted to publish this.

I’ve decided that I do want to write publicly about this issue. I apologise if it is disturbing, or frightening, or confrontational, or triggers emotions that are hard to deal with.

I can write about this issue openly now that I am past these horror days and now that I feel reasonably confident that I won’t experience them again, at least nowhere near the depths that I did sink to before. Thanks to an antidepressant and two mood stabilisers, and a team of psychologist, psychiatrist, very accessible and caring GP, fabulous husband and great friends!!

But I do feel that the population of the world fortunate enough never to plunge to these awful depths should have some understanding of the suffering that is out and about in the world, walking around trying to contain their sorrow and hurt. My favourite saying comes to mind:

“Always be kind. Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

lease PLEASE remember that however impossible it feels, severe depression can be survived. It doesn’t feel like but just ask for help and let someone in! Tell your partner, your friend, your family, your colleague, a local doctor or go to the local emergency department. Tell someone; don’t suffer alone!! You know the numbers:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467

Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Employee Assistance Program (employees of public hospitals): 1300 361 008

beyond blue: 1300 22 4636

Suicide Line (Victoria only): 1300 651 251

Suicide Prevention Foundation: 1300 465 366

So here we go!

Suicide. Death by one’s self.

We don’t talk about it enough.

It’s taboo. It’s avoided, ignored, swept out of sight.

There can be sense of shame about it. Some consider it selfish.

In some places and in some era’s it is and has been illegal.

Some insurance companies won’t pay out life insurance policies if a death is determined to be a suicide.

Yet, along the death spectrum a ways, people campaign for euthanasia, the right to kill oneself if life becomes physically unbearable.

What about when life becomes emotionally unbearable? Mentally unbearable? Somehow people never consider the rights of a person suffering in this way.

But this is a dreadful, terrible, awful way to suffer.

Why are we sympathetic to cancer patients with terminal illness suffering physical agony but don’t give the same thought to mentally ill people suffering emotional agony without relief?

And to some people there seems to be or is no end in sight; treatments that don’t work or take too much time to work, emotional turmoil with no relief, desperation. What then?

Personally, I don’t believe suicide is right. Morally, that is. I believe what the Bible says: thou shall not kill, including oneself.

But it was a whole different story when I found myself in the grips of severe depression and assailed with suicidal thoughts.

Suicidal wasn’t about self-harm and ending my life. Initially.

It was about feeling terribly awful in the midst of my perfect life, so awful that I didn’t know if I could survive, if I would ever feel good or well again and I just wanted a break!

It was about dragging myself through the motions every day and wondering if I would ever feel like every physical step wasn’t a tiresome chore. It was about emotionally forcing myself through the duties of the day, pasting a smile on my face and coping when I felt like crawling into bed and never coming out.

I wanted an escape, to step into a time warp that would take me out of my life for as long as it took for the depression to go away. Then I could just step back into my life and take off where I’d left off, minus the awful distress.

I wanted the escape, but didn’t know how to get it. I was on two antidepressants, an unusual combination and a bit risky. But that was what it took to get me feeling better and sleeping. To start with, but then I started having odd thoughts as my mood took a steep dive downwards, the first time I experienced what I would later find out was a mood swing.

What would happen if I just stepped out in front of the bus? If I just took one step out…

Would it hurt? Would I just die or would I be injured and gain nothing but more pain?

I’ve always been against the idea of committing suicide by using another person driving a vehicle. I’ve called it selfish. I’ve called it unfair and sympathised with train, bus, truck and car drivers used in this awful way.

Is this karma? To be wondering whether I would actually take that step? To be thinking not about the awfulness that the driver would experience, but to be wondering if I could be that person? Wondering if it would solve my problems? If it would just take everything away so I didn’t have to try to deal with it day by day by day.

I’ve always been nervous about people standing close to the edge at train stations. I’ve always been half-prepared to see something so awful that it would damage me for life.

But then nothing happened and this mental disease arrived, bit by bit. Maybe it was the anxiety in me the whole time, all these years worrying and thinking about such things.

This was my thought process, back then, before I went to hospital.

I could never jump in front of a train. I’ve read ‘Dear Miffy’ by John Marsden. I know what happens when a jump in front of a train is misjudged! I don’t want to be in a wheelchair or completely dependant on someone else.

I don’t think I would jump in front of a car; too small, more likely to end up alive and well with a couple of broken bones. So that’s out.

So that leaves a bus.

Or an overdose. But I know that the medications that I’m taking are relatively safe in overdose. They won’t kill me. I’ll maybe sleep for a while then wake up back where I started. With the added stigma of having tried to kill myself!

I don’t want that for me, but mostly I don’t want that for my husband. I don’t want to leave him with the bill, so to speak. He doesn’t deserve a life of questioning what went wrong, where could he have done something or done it differently, of blame. He doesn’t deserve any of that. No one deserves that. So I came to this: I can’t do any of those things. I have to keep on going, to keep trying, to keep fighting. Because I can’t do that to him. But it’s so hard!

Another day I got to thinking again: what if I just jumped off these rocks into the crash of waves breaking? Would it hurt? How long would it take? Would someone rescue me? Would it just be easy and instant?

What about sharps? One of my horrors is paper cuts to my eyelids, no idea why! But I’m always super careful around knives and I hate blades, which is why I now wax instead of shave; I’ve cut myself enough times as a total accident to give away shaving! And our knife set is new and super sharp, but I don’t think I could ever do that.

I don’t have a gun and I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

What about painkillers? I don’t have any above supermarket strength and I know they don’t work in overdose, it’s just long slow painful illness of liver failure that can take forever and is a terrible idea. Or bleeding, also slow and awful, not at all a solution.

I’m not great with heights, I just know I could never make myself jump.

So, all out of ideas.

And that’s how I came to be in my doctor’s office at midday on a Monday, bawling my eyes out.

The doctor asked me, have you had any suicidal thoughts? Yes, I sobbed.

Do you have a plan to harm yourself? No, because I can’t think of a way that would work! Sobbing harder and harder.

If I let you go, can you promise me that you won’t hurt yourself? I don’t know, I think so but I’m not sure, I feel so terrible! Sobbing, and sobbing, and sobbing!

A terrible, awful point for me in such despair and not even able to come up with a good way out. Still believing that it’s wrong, but needing so badly some relief! Just a few hours off, just a day of rest from the hurt and chaos in my mind!

Which I did get, later. I took a Valium on the way to the hospital, they gave me another one in the emergency department a few hours later. I slept then, for a few hours. That was just what I needed. But then I woke up and they wouldn’t keep me. As desperate and at the end of my rope as I was, they sent me home.

With 2 temazepam, double the usual dose of this sleeping pill. Which gave me another 8 hours of absence until I could come to terms with going on, dealing with a new day, another battle, keeping on keeping on. Until they could send members from the outpatient psychiatry team to visit and help me.

And then they started the long path to bring me back to today.

Starting new medications, changing doses, scrapping that one, starting another one, altering, fiddling, trying and failing and trying again in the long haul to now, a better day.

Today it is 77 days since I was in the emergency department of my local hospital (author’s note: written two weeks ago). Not the hospital I work at, another one near home. I could never have gone in that state to work and shown any of my colleagues the face under my usual coping face.

77 days. None of them spent working. All of them spent here at home. Making tiny steps of progress, going backward, coming forward, a couple steps one way, another few the other way, teetering backward and forward on the scale from deep depression to hypomania and somehow, at long last, feeling like I’ve settled in the middle around a place that I could call home, somewhere around about “normal”.

My husband in fact thinks maybe I’m better than “normal”. He sees now that maybe I’ve never been as good as I am now.

Sure I still get tired, and have the odd afternoon nap. But I’m more productive, I’m more energetic, I’m more engaged, I’m enjoying life, I’m driving a bit, I’m shopping a bit, I’m doing the dishes occasionally, the laundry sometimes, making the bed some days, hosting visitors rarely, doing day trips every now and then, actually living my life 🙂

We know there will still be days that are further toward one end of the scale or the other. The aim of all the treatment is to not go so far toward either end. My personal goal is to never ever in my whole entire life get anywhere near as deeply depressed as I have been. I don’t ever want to see the shape or colour of that place ever again!!

But we’re living life, and enjoying life! That’s something to be deeply grateful for every day. We’re alive, and relatively well, and life is good! Well, better anyway. That’s something.

I want to live life to the fullest. It’s a cliche, but that’s what I want. My aim is to enjoy every day that I can enjoy because depression is not ruling my life with it’s inability to enjoy pleasure, or it’s sadness, and hopelessness, and pointlessness.

Now ruling my life is just…life. Just life. Getting less complicated, more predictable, more fun! Yes, it takes an solid dose of antidepressant and a good going dose of two mood stabilisers/anti-psychotics. It takes weekly visits with my GP and psychologist, and fortnightly visit to my psychiatrist. It takes good doses of friends and hobbies and enjoyable activities. Who cares? What works, works and I have no argument against that!

Link: how to talk about suicide