First day/s

[Saturday 29th, and Sunday 30th April 2017]

“So how was your first day at work?”

Well thanks for asking! Really. I’m so grateful to every person who has asked about my first shift, about starting this job, and about what’s next for me. It’s so encouraging and I hope this answers all of your questions!

Actually, it’s also a complete relief to have an answer! Being “unemployed” never got more satisfying as a reply when people asked what I was up to. Although “unemployed” is not how I ever thought of myself. I still thought of myself as a pharmacist, although the longer I wasn’t working, the looser that description felt. I thought of myself as a birdwatcher, a photographer, a bike rider, a lady who was able to lunch more days of the week than not; but that seemed to come off a bit lame as an explanation. These titles com in addition to the long term titles of wife and sort-of housekeep; although hubby would argue with the housekeep bit, most likely. And then there’s how sick I had been, and still was, and how that was impacting my ability to work (or not!). Yes, I thought of myself as sick, because it’s hard not to. I mean I was. But it’s hard to explain the full extent of that, and the gradual process of recovery, in a short conversation.

But here I am, a pharmacist again. And I’ve so surprised myself; I’ve fit back into the role like I never left! I really thought I’d lost something irreplaceable somewhere along the line!! Really! Something that would stop me being a pharmacist again. Despite my seven years as a hospital clinical pharmacist, despite everything that I’ve done well and every proof of my good work, I let some unfair feedback from my previous job get under my skin like I do with many little, minor things, plus I have some insecurity about the gaps in my work history and how they would look to a future employer, and I started to doubt myself and worry about what next.

But, thank goodness, no. I mean there are plenty of things I can brush up on, make no mistake about that. There are definitely things I’m rusty on, and there have been a couple of minor boo boos; nothing a bit less of a rush, and a bit more math couldn’t have solved! But I’m back, really back! After my first two full-on days as the in-charge pharmacist working flat chat alongside great staff, meeting lovely patients/customers, doing the job of a pharmacist I can tell you that I’ve come home with an exhausted, almost delirious but actual happy, contented smile on my face, and I feel good! I never quite got the adrenaline rush that’s meant to come from exercise, but work is definitely a rush! One of the biggest joys, and most surprising, of starting back at work has been the methadone/Suboxone customers on the opioid replacement program: they are a really friendly bunch and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them. Okay, so I might be quite starry eyed and all at this point, but it’s all gone better than I thought so I’m staying thrilled for now. I’m back. That’s the most important thing!

Okay what else? My feet have been KILLING me!! This should be no surprise when you spend 7 or 8 hours straight standing up with maybe 10 or 20 minutes sitting down. Especially when up till now it’s been more like 9 or 10 hours of sitting down with interjections of activity. Swollen ankles, aching legs, feet sending out electric shots and shooting daggers; all symptoms of half my blood supply pooling in my lower legs!! Home time means legs up above my heart to return all that blood back to my circulation…lying on the floor with feet on the couch does the trick, if you were wondering. A pharmacist who has specialised in wound care for 30 years or more recommends all pharmacists (and anyone else standing up most of their waking hours) wear compression stockings/socks every time they work for this very reason, to keep the blood flow from pooling causing varicose veins, venous ulcers, cellulitis and more. It’s a great plan. I did wear compression tights for a while in winter a few years back because they pass as opaque black tights and they make a huge difference in how tired your legs get. But honestly, have you seen those opaque beige stockings?? I may not have much to be vain about, but I’m not quite prepared for those stockings. Plus these days I keep too warm for stockings of any kind so that helps my case, but not my legs and feet.

It’s been busy! Not as busy as it should have been on Saturday, then way busier than it should have been today, Sunday! Which evened out to 2 solid days work but we only had to do 30 minutes overtime today, and got out on time yesterday so that’s a win. Unfortunately today was the day hubby was picking me up and he had to wait half an hour in the car! I’m going to drive on Saturdays, but Sundays I have to take the train cos hubby needs the car, and the timetable just doesn’t work nicely. I’m happy to sit around Ringwood station for half an hour on a Sunday morning, but I’m not keen after dark so he agreed to pick me up…dunno if he’ll be so keen next fortnight! But oddly I haven’t felt terribly stressed even when the work is stacking up. I think that these days I accept that I can’t do everything, and just pick one task after the next and keep at it till we get through them all. To give fair due, both days I have worked with amazing help in the dispensary: a 3rd/4th year pharmacy student all day on Saturday and a dispensary technician who I wasn’t supposed to have, but who balanced front of shop with helping me on Sunday. Both were very efficient dispensers, really excellent assistants and a great help with customer service and supply of pharmacy only and pharmacist only products. Plus the shop girls took all the load of processing payments as well as providing great product advice. And there was always that pharmacist out the back providing an invaluable back up to my uncertainty; what a team!!

For some reason whoever was working Friday hadn’t seemed to order medications as they used the last one on the shelf. This is the pharmaceutical equivalent of not only finding that the last sheet on the toilet paper roll has been used up, but going to the cupboard and finding that that was the last roll! And now you have a patient/customer who needs toilet paper or…you get the metaphor. We had a fair few of these annoying and really inexcusable outages on Saturday, and it was embarrassing. It’s also a problem because we can’t order on Saturday, or rather we can but it won’t come in until Monday anyway, so we couldn’t even tell people to come back tomorrow. By the end of the day we had a longer order of medications than I’ve seen so far on a weekday, and we couldn’t order anything; quite the irritation, especially for common medications.

This is going to be my main deal in this job, working every second weekend. After finishing this first one, I think it going to be okay, good even. People coming in on the weekend understand that you’re giving up your weekend for them (sometimes!) and can be really appreciative (or not)! But I think I like it! Even though I’ve taken a pay cut to be here, don’t like working Sundays, have no real entitlement to a lunch break or any other break on a weekend day, am more hectic than I’ve been in a good while, and have to keep processing scripts when I’m busting for the loo, its a job and a pretty good one, so there’s lots to be happy about! Yes, I’m happy!

Anything!

Lately I’ve forgotten how much nicer it is to spend my day doing something, rather than nothing!

When I’m down, flat, depressed, I just can’t think of what to do. No ideas come to me, I think and think and it goes nowhere. I wake up in a fog, get up only when I can’t force myself to sleep any longer and lying there gets unbearable, and spend the rest of the day using as little energy as possible!

This is reflected in all the things that I don’t do. I don’t put the used knife at the sink or in the dishwasher; it stays on the bench with the butter and the spreads that should be put away in the cupboard. The bird bath gets filled up with rain or nothing, and the seed feeder empties and then sits empty: the very worst kind of bird feeding there is that; supply then cease. The dirty clothes can’t make it to the washing machine, I drive instead of public transport or walking. The ironing sits, and sits, and sits until my poor over-worked husband gets fed up and does it, while I watch in shame and guilt and secret gladness that it’s done, at least for today, until it piles up again. I do so miss my ironing lady!

I have lists of things to do, but doing them is more painful than transferring them to tomorrow’s to-do list. It’s been a few weeks of this kind of la-la nothing-ness, and it’s been getting tedious.

So I decided to muster my strength and drive myself the 10 minutes up to Doncaster Shopping Centre to go to a couple of stores. Did I remember that it was the school holidays? No, unfortunately! But never mind. Turns out, neither of the two stores that I went to visit exist there anymore!! This is such a typical palm to forehead moment from me that it has become laughable to my husband and I. A phone call to tell him such a story gives him a great big laugh and helps me feel a bit less stupid and wasteful of my limited resources.

Then he said this helpful thing. Oh well, since you’re there, take the chance to look around at any other clothing you need/want?

Usually I’d be straight back to my car and home to safety, but for some reason this time I thought why not? I looked up one of the stores I had come for, and it turned out that their brand was stocked in a couple of places although their name brand store didn’t exist anymore, so I went off looking for those stores and 3 hours later I emerged having had a pretty good day! I’d bought a pair of boots that I really liked and had been thinking about looking for/buying for a while; actually quite a long while! It all happened kind of painlessly. I’d even talked the staff into giving me 50% off instead of 30% because of a miniscule defect! Quite proud of that one. Bought a couple of fat tops, but not in the fat section; in the young cool people’s section. I’d chatted to service staff, talked to a couple of shoppers spontaneously and tried on every shoe I vaguely liked. I’d even photographed some shoes I’ll think about if I get a job or at sale time, like I’d ever remember that I’d taken the photos or where they were from! Another palm to face moment: I was meant to go to one department store to find the brand that I was after, and I spent all afternoon in the other one!! No wonder I couldn’t find what I was after! Oh dear! Again!!

So there it is, just by getting myself out of the house and being willing to/having the energy to push a bit further out of my comfort zone by staying out, several good things happened and I felt like I’d lived a day in the life of a normal person, shopping the sales in the school holidays.

That was the 7th of July, 2016.

Now, on the 27th July I’m in a totally different zone! A happy, energetic, functional, even efficiently effective zone! It’s so good! I truly literally have not felt this good since I got sick. Let’s rephrase and say that I’m feeling the best that I can remember since early 2013!!

It sort of makes me mourn all of the time that has gone by in the last 3 years – wasted hours and days and months, but they can’t be recovered so I just have to put them in the past, and put my attention to the excellent present that is making me feel good.

This is a solid proof, once and for all, that justifies me for defending myself over these years: my disease bipolar is all about the chemicals. When the chemicals are balanced, this is what I can be like, my best self.

When the chemicals aren’t right, I can bust my gut to be better, and exhaust myself in the endeavor, and get nowhere. But finally, all the hard work, all the psychiatrist’s appointments, all the tablets, all the heartache, all the problems and difficulties are just faded away and I’m well! My husband is so relieved. I think we had just about resigned ourselves to the fact of our lives just being sucked into the vortex of this evil disease. But now we know. We finally know that it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be better, to the point of almost normal. And I’ll take almost normal any day!

Of course the story isn’t over. This isn’t the end. This is a good cycle, but it’s still a cycle. That’s how bipolar works, one cycle followed by another; good following bad, and so on. Our aim is to cycle less often and less severely. Proving that I can get to a good cycle is just such great news, a huge relief and gives hope for the future. The medicines do their part, my psychiatrist and GP do theirs, all of your support does its part too and I do mine, and sometimes we hit the jack pot! Let’s celebrate it while it lasts, and know that when we go down again we’ll have more hope for coming back up!