Victory Part Two

[20th June 2015]

Where was I?

Ah yes, bicycle, perfect timing, much enjoyed.

So this week was going to be epic! Until it rained, and rained, and rained. And spoilt my plans! I had my diary set: Tuesday ride from Strathmore, new one for me so that should be fun, Thursday repeat of an earlier ride from Maribyrnong to Williamstown, but hopefully no head wind on the way back this time and so a more enjoyable return! Then there was a ride on Saturday, to follow up our skills session with Bridie O’Donnell, along Beach Road for a road ride. That was a tentative. I haven’t done a road ride in years, and never in a bunch, and not since uni days, and was I really up for it? Definitely a query! In the end I read the updated description and it was for riders above my level so I let that one slide.

Tuesday I was up and at ‘em! This being the most recent morning after the night before when I missed my tablets! So I was firing on all cylinders! Chatty, energetic, ready to kill it on the ride! Etc! But it was cancelled. It wasn’t actually raining but it had been pouring with rain at 3am when I woke up for the day on a short amount of quetiapine-absent restless, fractured sleep! Our leader had been out to check the course and it was wet and slippery. And honestly, I’m having such a good time, and haven’t crashed since my chest infection-induced stupor in week 3 and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t need any discouragement! So it was cancelled, but there’s always coffee and cake,Whee girls!! So I traipsed across town anyway for a good old catchup! And a divine cookie sandwich!!! I haven’t come across these till now, other than a Maxibon, but these are two yummy flaky bikkies with, in my case, vanilla bean cream in the middle! Very indulgent and just the best! Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington, people, opposite Newmarket Station! Wolf and Hound if I remember correctly! Worth the drive.

biscuit, latte, cafe

A Butterbing cookie sandwich and coffee at Wolf and Hound – not my coffee obviously

So that was all good, no ride for understandable reasons, and nothing could bring me down that day in any case, so a great day to bear with not getting to do what you hoped! When I say nothing could bring me down, I mean being too scatter brained to bring my phone charger, and my phone going flat from running GPS directed maps just as I got to the edge of my comfort zone and needed directions! But bipolar brain is super human and says, oh well, just drive up Flemington Road; you’re looking for an address in Flemington, you might get lucky! Well now we’re in Moonee Ponds so let’s turn around (not easy to accomplish!) and find a 7/11, surely they sell Melways. No you don’t? But I see a copy there, maybe I can just look up an address? Use your phone, are you sure, really I can look it up? Thanks, you’re a lifesaver, actually look it’s just nearby, 2 turns from here! Perfect, and I’m right on time! Thank you manic bipolar brain, you got through that mishap easy as pie. Of course, it is your fault about the charger…but everything else was great!

Cue Thursday. Restarted quetiapine on Tuesday night. There’s still some in my system, but miss a dose and boy, does the next dose feel like the first one! That first dose gives you the full side effect gammit: drowsiness like I’ve been dosed up with morphine, absolutely stupid after half an hour of taking it, cannot form words or walk anymore! Dry eyes makes them fully red which is just perfect for looking like a slurring, incoherent, stumbling lunatic if you happen to need the loo bad enough to get your eyes open and magically force yourself out of bed! Nose, eyes, mouth as dry as the desert, can’t pee or poop as much and boy is it hard to wake up the next day! Even if you wake it takes all morning for the sedation to wear off. Often I’ve just given up and gone back to bed at 9am, 10am, 11am. So Wednesday was not much of anything! In fact I sat in the same spot for the majority of the day once I finally got up at 11am to get breakfast. Think I did a load of laundry. Watched some Agents of Shield. Played Words with Friends. Ate lunch at 4pm. Tried to get my brain around our Wednesday bible study chapter. Started to think about dinner, then waited for my hubby to come home and make it. Bit of a washout day. But I knew that was coming, so yeah.

games, friends

Love this game! My husband isn’t such a fan, reckons I let him win so he’ll keep playing with me…so he stopped playing with me! Always happy to play with new people. This is one of the few activities that helps me feel like my brain isn’t rapidly shrinking!!

Thursday. Plan: repeat ride to Williamstown, without the head wind on the way back, if it please the Weather Bureau! 28 kilometres, gorgeous scenery, good friends, what more could we ask for? The forecast was 13 or something, but I have my neck gator, my head scarf, my new arm warmers, gloves, and a vest and coat to layer over my jersey, so no worries, plus I’m always warm on the inside! Despite the hangover effect, when my alarm went off at 8am I jumped right out of bed! Miraculous! Truly miraculous. The joy of the ride, the pleasure of good company, the scenic delights awaiting; my brain is on full anticipation mode, waiting for the lovely things the day will bring, which will in turn deliver to me those much lauded blessings of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, etc. It’s the dopamine that has the upper hand if you ask me. Once I finally got to that place of enjoying in my riding, my dopaminergic system started its reward seeking behavior that drives addiction. There, I said it, my brain is starting a powerful connection between riding and good things, and it wants more!

I’d organized to car pool with a friend from the course, the first time Little Miss Independent has let someone else take the wheel and do the driving. A big moment of letting go the control, and making friends! So nice to be trusted to go to someone’s house, meet their family, share an experience together. I’ve always considered myself a bit awkward socially, a bit challenged at making friends and as a little kid especially this was true. I’ve had my own friends, my school friends, and work friends. But I’ve always had my own space, where no one else goes. I’m finding it’s different with riding, because you really share common experiences so we have something together that binds us, and no external person can really share in it because they weren’t there. It’s fascinating to me, to see how this works, and to be a part of it! We share our insecurities, our weaknesses, our doubts in a way probably none of us would fully own out loud in any other situation, and probably not with our partners or other friends. Because in this course it’s okay to be scared, to not know, to be worried. It’s ALWAYS okay to be how you really are and what you really feel and no judgement is even thought of, because this is a place of learning and building up skills and encouragement and doing it together. That’s why we love it!

boardwalk, pond, rushes, bike

One from the archives. Back when I could still fit into my wardrobe, barely, March 2014. Remember I told you my hubby took me for a ride and it wasn’t the best? This is it! A brave smile!

—RIDE CANCELLED— As I’m walking out the door, socks, runners, leggings, jersey, neck warmer, ear warmer, gloves, vest, coat, lights, ready to go to my friend’s house to car pool, my phone beeps. I’ve got my bag with helmet, bike computer, bike mechanic kit etc on my shoulder, I’ve grabbed breakfast, filled up my drink bottle, got the car keys in my hand, bike in the car…cancelled! Cancelled! Ohhhhh. Deflated! But I’m ready to go! But that was the last organized ride for the week that was at my level! But I’m up, and if it was any other day I’d be asleep til 10am while restarting quetiapine, but I’m up! I’m up! Okay, so it’s wet and slippery, but I’m up!

This is no criticism of Wheel Women ride organization! They do an amazing job many times each week, and absolutely made the right call! No disagreement. But I was up! And I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the anticipation of friends and bike riding. Which is obviously a powerful thing, more than I would have ever expected from myself! So what now? Honestly I was flummoxed, wind taken out of my sails, left without purpose! So I sat down at the kitchen table, stared blankly at the wall and tried to think of what to do! Called my husband cos I was all out of ideas! Couldn’t think what to do next! It really had hit me for six, even though I always knew it was weather dependent. But I was going to go out and tackle that ride anyway, and do better. And now I wasn’t going anywhere! Huh!

blue sky, silver gulls, court house

A stunning Williamstown day on another ride

That was a great lesson to me, to find how much I depended on going riding, and expected to go, and could go the extra mile to get to the rendezvous point on time and all organized, because I wanted to go! Here are some powerful abilities that I can harness and use!

So, what to do? Actually I had a pretty flat day, which is so interesting to me, and something I can work on for next time for whatever disappointment inevitably comes. How can I response differently, better, not let myself get so deflated? I was still in a pretty soggy condition when my hubby got home so he set me to think up rides that I could do the next day. It was a great idea, but I parked it on the shelf. Right now though, I’m inspired so I’m going to try to do that, write a to-do list of bike rides for the future so that I always have a backup plan.

Inspired. Me, right now. Why? Its two days on from Thursday, and today I went and did that ride that was planned and cancelled with my husband, and it was great! The weather was cold but sunny, the scenery is always spectacular on that route and we had fun! Then we went and checked out the cyclocross race nearby and I got my fix of bikes and I’m feeling fine! Better than, in fact. It’s 10.48pm and I’m still tap tapping these ideas that were floating in my head while riding. Turns out riding really gives your head space to process ideas!

cars, blue sky, silver gull

Silver gull parade!! These ‘rats of the sea’ are standing guard waiting for the woman to finish her meal and hopefully leave some chips so they can all swoop in and grab the scraps

And that’s not the end of the victory parade.

The following Tuesday our ride was cancelled before the actual day. But I woke up that morning to a text from one of the lovely girls in our group asking if anyone wanted to do a replacement ride. What a genius, and what a great idea, and perfect for feeling like we haven’t missed out. Yes I did want to do a ride, so we met up really close to home and did an 18km ride together. It was a bit tougher than a lot of our other rides with a few challenging hills but we looked out for each other and I felt so satisfied by the time we got back. We had a nice coffee and cake at a cute new café, and I just loved it! Being independent, and able to tackle a decent ride on our own, and feeling like we’re capable and equipped; satisfaction! And it feels like a victory! I still want to do as many organized rides as I can, but what a feeling to be able to run our own ride if it falls through! Yay!!

So on Thursday, when the ride was ‘only’ 13km, we improvised and went the long way back to the cars together to draw the ride out to 24km. Imagine that! After such a slow, difficult start, I now feel a bit cheated if we don’t do 20km! I mention ‘only’ because the leaders would sometime say this to us, it’s only 6km, its only 13km etc. And I would think to myself, only, ONLY?? What are you talking about, only! I’m not at the only stage, every peddle stroke hurts. It was fascinating on Thursday because we rode the first ride we ever did to the bike store, which I thought would never end as I wheezed and sweating and burned my way along the ‘only’ 6km. And this time we got there in 10 minutes, before my legs had even warmed up, and suddenly we were there and I couldn’t believe how it didn’t hurt, or require much effort and we passed it like it was a kilometre from the car park!! That’s progress, and it’s so exciting!!

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Understood

All along the way from when I first got sick with anxiety, through the dark days of depression and during the ups and downs and unknowns of bipolar disorder, I’ve always been comforted by music lyrics.

Probably I would have been similarly consoled by poetry, literature, plays and movies but of them all songs are the most accessible form of written word, and come with the added benefit of mood modulating sound.

Having been an avid reader all my life who could read write through the night, read in the almost dark, read with a failing torch under the covers, read in the toilet, at the beach, in the car until I got car sick, it is disappointing that I am now a very light reader. Books are out, magazines are okay if they’re mostly pictures with captions, letters are manageable, journals can be tackled in short passages, and reading my Bible is an ongoing battle.

Which makes songs perfect! I can turn on the radio and the music is fed to me song after song and takes no effort on my part. It just lilts into my ears, is filtered by my brain channels and either goes upward into storage or outwards never to be listened to again. Kind of like all the apps out there; Pandora, Spotify etc. No effort, just listening and enjoying and trimming all the gross ones while storing all the good ones.

I’ve written about some of the songs that have resonated with me: Sia’s Chandelier, Eminem and Rihanna’s Monsters, and maybe a couple of others when I was talking about the Songs That Made Me tour of Katie Noonan.

Here’s a new one: Pitbull and Neo’s Time of Our Lives. Now Pitbull in real life seems to be a very scary and possible violent person…actually I think there are court cases to show the possible is a certainty. But I can’t help it, I just love the timber of his voice. I love it!

So I was listening to it today and I want to share the lyrics that grabbed my heart and my gut and my thoughts all at once and made me say, yes!

Yes, that’s just what it’s like! I had a thought about the idea in my head but now you, creative artist, have put my muddled thoughts into clear words that are just so right to me. Yes, that’s just what it’s all about. Someone gets me, someone understands my thoughts and here they are in a cool song! It’s almost like these are the words that I need someone to say, and here you’ve gone and said it and filled that hole in my spirit.

Everybody going through something (repeated 8 times)

This is for anybody going through tough times

Believe me, been there, done that

But everyday above ground is a great day, remember that

-Time of Our Lives – Pitbull feat Ne-Yo

Isn’t that nice? I think it’s nice. And for the same reason Eminem always connects so strongly with me. There is something very soothing about a big, tough, strong, violent, criminal man saying to me through song, I get what you’re going through, and I’m settled enough in my own personality to admit that I’ve been there too, I understand it, and you will be okay. How sweet, big, tough man!

I’ll mention in a brief passing note that listening to the whole song might not exactly be the lovely calming thing I’ve made it to be. I’ve taken these words way out of context. The main point of the song is a guy in a tight financial jam who can’t pay his rent or bills or keep up with his life but he has just enough money to go and get smashed and perv on the hot bartender and maybe get lucky! Soooo….yeah. I took this nice bit out, but maybe you should just read these words and trust me that hearing them straight from Pitbull was a sweet moment for me. My recommendation in difficult times is never to drink yourself into a stupor before you get evicted/repossessed/arrested!

But I think it is always refreshing and relieving to hear anyone say that they realise others are having a rough time, that they realise you are having a tough time or that they have had a tough time. It makes me personally feel closer to a person who says this because I feel they are someone I can trust with myself because of their empathy, experience and/or care for others. A person like that seems to be one that won’t let you down, or give you a hard time over your difficulties, or expect miraculous recoveries. A person like that knows just how to be what you need most, cares about you and understands you. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Even if it’s just for a moment, and comes from a celebrity, and is sung in a song.

Even if you know you’ll never know the artist, and the moment of hearing the song will pass, but the world is a better place for them getting your struggle and singing about it!

For a few brief moments you and they are as one, and your loneliness and feeling of being misunderstood and people not ‘getting’ you and finding it hard to express your pain are resolved and made better and you are soothed.

That is truly wonderful.

And it stings like…

“A little twist of the knife, yeah. A little salt in the cut, yeah. A little thorn in the side and it stings like hell”

– The Veronicas, ‘Cruel’ lyrics.

Lazy. Not listening. Not trying to help yourself. Making yourself sick. Not doing what you can to get better. Doing things to make yourself sicker. If you really wanted to get better you would… .

Exaggerating. Everyone’s getting sick of this. Everyone else has problems too. You think just because you have a problem that it means you’re worse off than anybody else. I have problems too.

When I read this out loud or run it through my mind, it sounds like the negative self-talk that I had way back a year or more ago when I was really depressed. But I thought I worked though that? Didn’t I spend all that time in therapy with my psychologist specifically addressing this type of self-talk, bit by bit by tiny itty bitty little bit? I think differently now, for the most part. I try, in any case. And when a bit of negativity comes up, I think I have the skills now to recognize it, to dissemble it, remove its effect on my mood and thoughts and carry on regardless. For the most part; I’m not impervious!

What is it then, this string of insulting, hurtful words? It does sound quite a bit like one of the soundtracks a person with schizophrenia might be subjected to listening to. But I don’t have schizophrenia. I’m very sure of this. The number of mental health reviews and tests and interviews I’ve been through have shown up a string of illnesses, but psychosis has never come into the mix. I’ve never had voices as such, delusions or hallucinations as such, or this kind of audible insulting persona living in my brain.

What then? It must be an actual voice coming from an actual human. You wouldn’t think this would be a way a person would speak to me, to anyone, even if they did think it in their mind. Not like this. The words are awful things thrown with an angry, reactive tone. Who would know enough about me to think they were able to say such things with such venom?

Not my dear one, my husband. He watches the struggle daily and knows what effort I put in. It wears thin but he never throws blame. What an angel.

Not my friends, not one of my precious friends could say these things. They support, and support, and support. They are lovely, kind, genuine, helping, caring.

And there, aha. It sheds the light on who it is, who it can only be. And a shard pierces the heart, again. Again. I hoped.
I thought in my hoping that things would change for the better; that knowledge and understanding would temper such words. I looked for empathy, love, kindness. Not too much to hope for?
Disappointed again.
Sorry again to find that expected allies are enemies still, slashing and stabbing and wounding and delaying the healing and brutalizing the hope.

Well fooled me. Fooled in hope, in desire, in wanting, in needing something different. Fooled again. More fool me. Well, fool no more. Hope no more.

I see the scene, and I see that change cannot be brought by me. Nor by my dear one. Nor by my friends. I tried, it isn’t for want of trying. But I failed, and can’t stand to fail over again.

I don’t know where the change may be able to come from, or by who, or if it even can come.

But I turn my eyes away, I do not look for it anymore.
It is finished, for me. I have my love, my friends, my allies some. They are enough for me. I am enough for me. We will be enough.

Back on ya bike

Today is the 17th of March.

But you knew that.

St Patrick’s day I believe. Not that this ever has much to do with me, or I with it. Just something that’s going on out there in the actual real world.

All that the 17th of March signifies to me today is that it is not the 9th of March. Quite a bit past it in fact. So I’m over my deadline of writing to you all but let’s put that aside and focus on the fact that we’re here! All alive, all well to some degree.

I have in fact been writing in preparation for my deadline but it just wouldn’t go to plan. It didn’t flow, I wasn’t comfortable with it, the stars weren’t aligned. So I’ve been thinking and thinking and getting nowhere. Then today it just started waking up and forming in my head and here we are! Patience is a virtue remember, and I say remember to myself more than anyone else. Patience! So here we go with the brain flow of today.

Today I strapped on a pair. Strong start, right? But we’re going down a different pathway.

Today I strapped on a pair of runners. Sneakers, joggers, running shoes. I got them out of the wardrobe, literally dusted them off! loosened the laces like the shop lady taught me so many years ago, put a foot in each one, pulled the laces tight again and there I was ready to do battle. I will admit now that I checked last night to make sure they were in fact still IN the cupboard! You know, in case it had been so long that for whatever reason they had vanished!

I strapped on a pair of socks; that happened before the shoes. When did I last get out a pair of socks AND wear them? I get them out every time we go on holidays, in case. I never use them. But I take them in case. Every time. Sometimes several pairs. In case I’m active several days in a row. You know, cos that happens! Along with my runners. I take them too; in case. My socks had burrs in them from goodness knows where! Or when. I guess it’s lucky they didn’t have moths in them, or a family of spiders! Spiders would have definitely changed the course of the day! My horror of spiders long pre-dates all the other fears that have developed in my life more recently. And it’s a hard one to conquer! Their legs move and I run, literally, screaming from the room. Could be a good exercise incentive, although repeated episodes of that much adrenaline cannot be good for me!

I strapped on a pair of sunglasses to contend with the overcast drizzle; good choice!
A pair of yoga pants, the only pair of pants left that I can wear without shame and horror at how much of my body doesn’t fit into them!
A bright yellow T shirt that I bought for a casual top when I grew out of all my other casual tops, but which irritates me by not sitting where it’s meant to. But the request was for bright clothes.

The occasion? I’m re-learning to ride my bike! I’ve signed up to have ‘Wheel Women’ teach me and 7 other ladies the Cycling Australia ‘She Rides’ course. We’ll learn about the bits of our bike, how to fix things, how to ride, what essential equipment you need etc. Our course isn’t the beginner course. We’ve all ridden before. Ours is the confidence course, remembering what we’ve achieved before, how much we already know. It’s also about just how much what we learn will help us to become confident in riding again etc.

Because I have been confident in the past, you know. As primary school aged kids we would shoot out of the car as soon as it stopped in the garage after school, throw our bags inside the house (or in the yard, on the garden, near the chook house) and be on our bikes before you could blink. We’d all ridden since we were toddlers on foot propelled solid plastic indestructible stabilised bikes. We’d all progressed up through a trike, a small bike with training wheels then up through a variety of pretty solidly contructed biked until we made it to an actual store built mountain/commuter bike from Kmart! That was a great moment! It had gears, a stand, flat handle bars, a bell, brakes activated by levers instead of feet!

We had a hill in our driveway where the channel had to be broached and a roundabout for cars to easily turn around. So we’d ride flat out from the road to the top of the bridge and the competition was who could roll the furthest down the bridge, around the house on an S bend curve and the ultimate victory was to make it to the gate into the backyard. It was one on one so there were heats for me and the next down to compete and the two little kids to compete. Then there were speed races down to the garage, technical races around the garden beds and so on. I love it all! We did learn to ride classes at school and the big ride day every year with half the school. We rode to school when mum was working, often with the naughty fox terrier tagging along. We’d tell her to go home but she was sneaky. She’d pretend to head home then sneak diagonally across the paddocks while we round around the square and often beat us to school where, of course, all the kids loved her and made a big fuss out of her!

Great days! And lots of fun. Of course I had the odd accident, ironically the first big one was trying to go too slow while Mum with the baby in the backseat caught up. Our whole driveway was gravel so there were of course many accidents where the wheel slipped out or we hit a bump. Then a bigger one when I was riding up Manningham Road to Heidelberg train station to get to uni. I decided to leave the road for the foot path to cross a big intersection, took it on too much of an angle and landed on my chin! That was the confidence sucking one! That was really the death knock for me riding on roads, and even bike paths.

Thus the course. We have 8 sessions of 2 hours and the first one was this morning. And already I’m stoked!

Which is a miracle considering I spent most of yesterday in an absolute stew about it! What if, what if, what if?!

What if I don’t wake up in time?
We’re meant to be there at 10am, that means I have to be awake at 9am at the latest and ideally leave the house by 9.30am. That’s kind of early given my getting out of bed times lately! Despite my consistent bedtime of around 10pm my morning wake up time can vary from 8am to 11am! This is the result of medication sedation, which is consistent daily but it’s so unpredictable in how much and for how long!

What if I wake up in time but I’m really drowsy and not fit to drive the car?
I’ve been minimising my driving lately when I feel I’m too sedated. That means I don’t do long distances, especially when I’ll need to drive home again later in the day. I don’t need a collision to tell me I’m not fit to drive!
What will I do if that happens? Cancel? Then I’d feel like a failure. Go anyway? That could be dangerous. Get a cab? How would I get my bike there? and etc!

What if it’s too hot for me?
Since I’ve been on this particular antidepressant my temperature feels high all the time. I’ve never actually checked if it is higher, but I feel hotter than the average person unless that person is going through menopause in which case we’d make good buddies! When others are comfortable I’ll be wringing sweat from my brow! Which sounds old fashioned and romantic but it sucks, it really sucks! I don’t like sweat beading on my forehead and running down my face or into my hair! I don’t like other people seeing that. I don’t like them seeing me wiping the sweat off. I don’t mind having them see me wave a fan around or sitting in a breeze but the other stuff? Ergh!

What if I don’t have the energy to get on my bike and ride?
So many days I just don’t have the energy for anything! I’ve become very sedate.
How do I know I’ll be able to do it? What if I just can’t and get humiliated?

Also, what if I’m too unfit?
I know the course description says no one is too unfit for them, but my hubby and I went on a 5km ride a few months ago to try to get me back into riding. The scenery was beautiful but I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of my heart beat and breathing!! And it felt bad!
What if I get left behind and its shameful that I’m so unfit at such a young age?

At about the sixtieth what if my husband suggested a Valium and that helped. A lot. Diazepam, it really is a wonder drug used sensibly. It took the agitation and fretting and stressing out of it. The contingency plan from my husband: all I want you to do is show up. Go there with your bike and at that point that’s a win. Stay if you feel like it, if you have to leave early that’s okay. If you can get through the whole thing that’s fabulous.

Perfect! He always knows what to say! My issue in all things is the starting. Getting out of bed, getting out of the house, getting started on a job, getting to a social event. If there was a time warp around the getting ready life would be easier. It’s the mental preparation that trips me up!
Once I’m there, out of bed, out of the house, started, at the event I’m fine! I’ll be yucking it up with everyone, telling stories, hanging out, ready to get the day going.

So I had my back out strategy, which is vital! If I can’t think of the way out of any place or situation I tend to get panicky. But knowing that I can leave whenever I want and having a specific plan for how I will execute the leaving makes it okay to put myself in that restricted position. It’s crazy but it works! Everywhere, every time.

So I’m stoked with how it all went!

The 3 trainers were lovely and there was no pressure. There were only a handful of us so no hoards of unknowns to face up to. 90 minutes was taken up off the bike with instruction and demonstration so that was a big relief! When we did do riding it was gentle and tiny distances. I seemed to be at least at the same level as the other ladies so no more fear of being left behind!

I looked okay in my clothes which made me comfortable; no more squishing into old size 12 and 14’s; from now on regardless of the size I’m wearing clothing that suits my new figure! I was able to do everything I was asked, my bike is the perfect fit for me, and some old confidence and enjoyment of doodling around on my bike kind of seeped back into my heart.

It made me glad that I was on track to rediscovering riding for fun. Not for competition or eliteness but just good plain fun! I’m excited about that!! It’s so important to me these days to have things that are mine alone to feel good about, to enjoy, to feel satisfied with. My bird watching, my photography, my writing and now my riding. This isn’t so I can go on every Saturday monring 5am 100km road ride with my husband, or brother, or sister, or brother-in-law or father etc! This isn’t so I can go all day up hill down dale mountain biking. This isn’t so I can put on an external skeleton and go hurtling down Hotham or Buller in the off season! Definitely not the last one!

This is for me. This is to remember that I have a kife skill in me that can make me feel better about myself, that I can openly and completely enjoy without any reserve, that is all mine, that I dictate and I steer.

Anything that excites me these days is to be treasured!! Held on to and pursued. And I really feel like this is it!
There are 7 weeks to go, and I’m really truly looking forward to all of them 🙂 YAY!!!

Mental as

This week is Mental Health Week from 5th to 12th of October and today, Friday 10th October, is World Mental Health Day.

You know me; that’s just way too much of an opportunity for me to let it pass!

There have been some amazing efforts put forward this week by various agencies to improve our understanding of mental health conditions, treatments and the help available to every single one of us. In particular today’s theme is Schizophrenia so there will be a lot of information available about this condition specifically.

If you haven’t already seen some of these efforts come up on Facebook/Twitter/MySpace/ Instagram/email/TV/the streets, you may want to check out the Black Dog Institute, the South African Depression and Anxiety group, Beyond Blue, ABC TV, Headspace, lifeline or one of the many other groups, associations and publishers that have websites, social media presence and who are doing remarkable work to help us all.

Mental Health Week allows mental health issues to be brought to the foreground as a topic for discussion in workplaces, at home, in schools, TAFEs and universities, among certain ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural groups and generally everywhere.

I think the very much most important-ist place to talk about mental health is with yourself. What do YOU think about mental health? What are your fears, concerns, issues, problems with mental health? What do you know, and what don’t you know? Is it a personal issue for you; is it a family, personal, friend, colleague, acquaintance issue? What do you want, need, hope for, wish for about mental health? Etc…you can think up the questions.

The second most important place at discuss mental health is at home. Around the dinner table, in front of the TV, in the car on the way to school etc. If we are all too afraid to talk about it when it isn’t an issue for anyone important to us, how on earth are we going to be able to bring the topic into the house if and when it does become something that we need to talk about?! So start a conversation today. Do it. Just do it. For your future self, or family member, just in case.

Mental health week is a chance for the concerns, the issues, the requests for resources, the commendations of individuals and organisations to be heard. It’s also a time when each party puts forward their specific focus and area of interest.

So what’s mine? And what’s yours? I’d love to hear them, and I’m sure any of the organisations and even government bodies putting in a presence this week would appreciate knowing your opinion too. In fact you can pledge your promise to improve mental health and share it via the awesome R U OK? website or social media.

My dream is that every single solitary person in this lucky country would understand mental illness.

Or if they don’t understand it, that at least they would know what mental illness is, how it can treated, where help can be found and when to intervene to help somebody. That would make me so happy!

‘Mental illness’ is a vast and changing term but my dream is that at a minimum depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia would be understood or known by everyone. I know there are a whole lot of other disorders and illnesses that are equally important and need to be educated around, but this is my dream.

I want mental health education to start in the first year of high school as part of health, or English, or science, or SOSE, or PE, or languages or ANYTHING! I don’t care what bracket it’s taught under; I just want every child to know what can be out there for a friend, family members or themselves.

Since I have been talking about my mental health, a friend has contacted me to say her mother was undiagnosed with bipolar for her whole childhood and teen years and treated unsuccessfully for depression, which can be a common course. She wrote to say how glad she was that I got the right diagnosis so quickly (18 months didn’t feel quick, but it’s relative), and to say how much she wished it had been found out earlier in her mother, because it would have changed everything!

So consider this: some education to family members earlier in life may, just may, have changed lives!

I don’t want mental health to scare people. On my return to work, a health professional colleague responded to my statement that how I’d been off work with a nervous breakdown by saying: “Depression scares me! Sometimes I find my mood getting low and it freaks me out so I make myself be happy again. I don’t want anything messing with my brain”!!! This is a health professional! With clearly no more understanding of mental illness than a goose, which is very unfortunate!

We need everyone, and especially health professionals, educators and anyone dealing with the public, but we might as well go for ALL people while we are at it, to UNDERSTAND mental illness!

Not just read about it, swot it for exams, know the diagnostic criteria! We need people to know that depression doesn’t change your brain, yes it’s not nice but no reason to be terrified of it!

It’s not any more scary than diabetes which can kill or damage nerves causing severe pain, blind you, deafen you, make you prone to infections, put you at risk of stroke and heart attack!! That’s a LOT more scary to me than a serotonin imbalance that can be corrected with medication, counselling, time and support.

So here’s to dreams! And the tiny steps we can take to today, to start to get there!

*I’d like to acknowledge the slogan of the ABC’s fabulous efforts in broadcasting mental health education and issues for Mental Health Week as the inspiration for my title*

Tired

Tired. Being tired. Feeling tired.

This is still the hardest thing of all for me to deal with. Especially so because I can’t really see that much of an end to it coming up with any haste.

Being or feeling tired, is pretty much the physical equal of being or feeling depressed, mentally. In fact I think they are different ends of the same condition. I’m sure that every depressed person feels tired; I’m not sure if every tired person, who is tired from some other cause that is ongoing and continuous, feels depressed but I’m guessing the percentage that do feel depressed is pretty high.

Most of the stereotypes are exactly the same.

You know, all the old favourites: “you don’t look tired”, “you don’t seem tired”, “I bet if you pushed yourself you would find that you’re not that tired”, “if you just tried a bit harder I’m sure you’d be fine”, “exercise is good for people when they’re feeling tired”, “if you were really tired you’d be sleeping instead of just laying around”, “are you eating properly because if you were I’m sure you’d find you weren’t so tired”, “are you sure you’re not just being lazy”, “are you sure you wouldn’t feel better if you did something for the day instead of sitting/lying there”, “are you sure quitting is good for you? If you pushed yourself I think you could keep going”, “everyone gets tired, you just have to push through it”.

Yawn! Surely it can't be time to get up! bed

Yawn! Surely it can’t be time to get up!

Really?! So let me get this straight. It’s not bad enough that I’m suffering with tiredness, but now you get to judge me for the affliction which I would never have wished for, and condemn me for however I somehow manage my way through it. Hmmm. Yep that sounds reasonable.

Rant over; that’s not what this is about. But I will make a side point here before we move one. Every single time that you want to ask someone a question that subtly suggests they are being useless and not helping themselves, think about this.

If that person had cancer and was suffering from whatever-it-is, in this case let’s say tiredness since that’s the topic, would you still ask the question? Would you still hint that they could do better and be better?

If that fails, try, and I mean REALLY try, to empathise with the subject, in this case, let’s say me. How about, as a mental exrcise, you imagine you were me? You may be a friend who knows a little about me, family who knows a bit more about me, or a stranger unmet that knows only what’s written here…but try. And if you can’t imagine it, or have insufficient information to really get into my shoes, then maybe it would be appropriate for you to consider that you also have no right to comment.

And please don’t take this as a rudeness or a get-out-of-here sentence! It’s meant only as a demonstration because I’m certain that most people commenting on health and mental health these days are not the people who have an inside and intimate view of the various conditions that exist.

So; being tired.

Here is the 50 million dollar question: is it physical or mental?

Here is the 25 million dollar: does it matter?

And here’s the question that I want answered that I’m not sure there is even an answer to: what the ……. am I supposed to do about it??? Fill in the blank yourself.

I have no idea what to do about it. No clue.

Everyone else has a lot of ideas.

Who has the answer that is best for me?

So here’s my systematic approach.

Why am I tired?

First cab off the ranks: I have depression, bipolar depression that comes with lack of motivation, lack of energy, lack of stamina, lack of feeling. So there’s that.

Second idea: medications including quetiapine (Seroquel) which literally puts me to sleep at night and possible hangs over a bit the next day; lithium which is known to slow you down a bit, so there’s a bit more.

Third thing: I have underactive thyroid which was caused by lithium and we’re still working on getting the thyroxine (Oroxine) dose right. I started on half a tablet, now I’m on a full tablet of the lowest strength and we’re waiting the 6 weeks before we can take a blood test to check if we need to bump it up again. Also I’ve had iron deficiency anaemia over the last year and while my iron levels are finally okay, my iron stores are still low so I’m still getting that sorted out with iron tablets and I’m also enrolled in a clinical trial to help with iron levels. None of that helps.

Fourth: the weight gain thing. The last time I ran around and got excited about jumping up and down, I was 30kg lighter! Thirty kilograms. It should surprise no one that a person carrying a bag of 30kg moves slower than they used to! It’s logical maths.

So actually, when I see it all written out on paper in detail…I realise maybe I could be giving myself a break.

Hmm. That’s actually quite a lot of reasons to be going slow…maybe I need to go back to psychology basics and re-frame my life these days. Maybe what is desperately needed here is some of that self compassion that I blab about but forget to apply, and a new perspective.

The perspective that says, Danika, whatever you can get done today is excellent. Congratulate yourself for getting up out of bed, for having breakfast, for getting out of the house, for getting through a shift of work, for whatever activity you do.

Forget about wondering why you can’t this and that, why you used to be able to do this and can’t now, why it’s hard to get through what you want to get through.

Try being excited and satisfied and happy about whatever you can get done. Give yourself a break. Don’t just say it, give it! It’s not a theory, it needs to be a practice. Give yourself a break!

And remember that you have hope of improving in the future: the plan to eventually wean you off sleepy quetiapine, your intention to slow weight slowly but steadily, your commitment to your medication that should correct your thyroid function and anaemia.

RIght now, it doesn’t matter what the tiredness is; could be anything off the list. Just take each day as it comes, and try not to have excessive expectations of yourself in your current state. You aren’t last year, you aren’t later this year; you’re right now, so just handle what you can handle, and leave the rest to another day.

And seriously: take your own advice! Don’t just right these easy lines for someone else’s benefit; read them and believe them and check in on them again each day. Every day. I don’t want you getting into a state about this tiredness thing anymore; give yourself a break!

Hindsight

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

If only I’d known that beforehand…

Well it all seems clear in hindsight…

With hindsight I would have…

But that isn’t how the world works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I’ve been thinking about today is hindsight.

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

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

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

I was feeling pretty crappy about the whole situation!

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

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

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

Then again maybe not; who knows?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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