Hard questions #1

*WARNING: this is a blunt and honest account of hygiene, specifically the lack thereof – you may not look at me quite the same after reading this, but remember that I am the same person, just struggling to keep my juggling balls in the air*

What I write here, I write to share with you the side of mental illness that isn’t necessarily obvious to the onlooker, be they aware or unaware of the illness. Or maybe its obvious, but not understood. I write it to break through the stigma, if I can, that still settles over the mentally ill and to raise awareness of what life is like inside a head that doesn’t let you be the boss very often.

I know this isn’t going to be glamorous. But believe me: I’m not trying to sensationalise the truth. If anything, I’m under-selling the real story. So here we go:

Some questions are hard to answer.

Some questions are unanswerable.

Some you just wish were!

Like,

“How long is it since you last had a shower?” – husband

 

Ummm…well…

I’m not really sure…ahhh…

Maybe…I don’t know…

I think it was…

Hang on, when did I last work? Was it then…no, that’s right, I dry shampooed…

So, then…maybe on the weekend? Which day was it…

You changed the towels a week ago?

I haven’t used mine yet? Hmm…

…well then I guess…well then I guess that’s when…ah, yeah…so…a week you say…

Now where was I? let me just…slowly walks awaydrowns in shame

Plans to shower tomorrowknows it probably won’t happen

more shamethat’s life!

There are a number of questions that you try your best to avoid hearing, and therefore having to answer, once chronic illness has set in.

Like, when did you last have a shower.

I was never a shower-a-day person. I grew up out of town in drought years and whenever the rain didn’t come we had to buy in tanker loads of water to fill up our concrete tanks because we weren’t connected to town water. For longer than I liked we didn’t shower, we bathed because it was much more economical for water use to run a bath tub full of water rather than have individual showers. Plus when we were little its just what you do; everyone piles in. When we were little the bathroom was also outside in the mud brick section of the house: shower and bath in one room, laundry in another, and toilet at the end. Later on in our school years we got an inside bathroom (toilet still outside) and it was one after the other, and you got to top it up with hot water if it ran cold, which by the time the 4th person got in was a high likelihood, never mind the parents. Especially because some people liked to have a sleep in there, regardless of those following! Okay I was one of those having a sleep in the bath, but I went last or close to last. If you were washing your hair you got to quickly rinse the conditioner off in the shower, given that the bath water wasn’t the cleanest by that point. Then again, showering wasn’t all it cracked up to be since the shower head was too short! It was half a gym workout doing squats under the tap while rinsing your hair!

So I was an every second day washer, basically just when my hair needed washing or my leg hair was getting to liberated woman stage! So when I got sick I didn’t exactly have the best routine to fall back on.

Why is showering so difficult and so irregular now?

There’s no simple, snappy one-liner answer.

It’s a few things.

My shower is in a bath. Lifting a leg over the tub just always seems so…HARD! I think about having a shower, and I think about getting one leg up and over, let alone 2 legs into that bath without over-balancing, the effort of getting my big self up and over into the tub and its just…its…its so…its just, yeah, well, maybe tomorrow.

So there’s that. Plus it takes energy. If I had a store of energy, like in a barn, I would go get the amount of energy that I need with my forklift and bring it back to the bathroom and have my shower. It would be simple, straightforward. I would just take the exact amount of energy needed, use it to have a shower and it would be all good! Sadly, unfortunately, regrettably, energy doesn’t store. It just comes and goes, waxes and wanes. You either have it in the moment or you don’t. There are things that help or not, but there’s no guarantee of having the energy you need when you need it. So, lying in bed thinking about having a shower and I ask myself, do I have the energy to do this right now? And it’s an easy answer, it’s a yes/no problem. So it either happens, or it doesn’t. I.e. it doesn’t. Because all that thinking just used up my having a shower energy! Isn’t that ironic? So now no energy, no shower and I turn my attention to covering up not having a shower, if its been more than a day.

There are things that make it a bit easier. Hubby getting the shower running and frogmarching me to the edge of the tub for instance. Well that’s about it, actually. There are hardly any things that actually motivate me to the point of getting up off my tush and having a shower, even my amazing husband. Even when he asks me to, as a favour to him. This is a point that a lot of people don’t understand.

“Don’t you want to do it for me?”, “Yes I do want to do it for you”.

“Do it for me”, “I can’t”.

“Can’t you even do it for me?”, “I’m sorry, I just can’t, even for you”.

It hurts me to give these answers. I love my husband more than anything in the whole world. We have been best friends since 2003, since we met practically. We’ve been married for nearly 8 years and have shared everything together. If I could do it for him, I would! Come to think of it, if I could do it for myself, I would! But its not about that. Its about not having the energy, the motivation, the drive to do it. If one of those questions comes up, it just makes me feel worse about the whole thing, which is not the intention I know; that I wouldn’t even do it for him, after all he’s done for me. How selfish!!

And maybe it is selfish. A lot of times depressed people have to make selfish choices for their own survival, be it mental, physical, or emotional survival. And it hurts us to do it. But we need to, even if you don’t see why. It’s not about you, its about us; that sounds selfish right there. But we spend a lot of time conserving our resources and we know what we can and can’t manage. But doing that means a lot of navel-gazing, inward looking so you’ll have to excuse us while we’re busy sorting ourselves out, please.

I think it is a severe understatement to say that my husband is long-suffering! He is beyond patient and kind with me, beyond what I deserve for trying his limits so severely with such things as:

  • unwashed hair looking and feeling greasy
  • the same hair tangled into dreadlocks-style clumps that have to be cut out after who knows how long of not brushing my hair, then dry shampooing, then not brushing, then dry shampooing etc
  • eyebrow/underarm/leg/bikini waxing abandoned I don’t even know how long ago anymore!
  • tooth brushing I also don’t know…well I do know cos I brushed them last week once, but before that its anyone’s guess and he suffers them orange with food stuff and still bravely kisses me when I must be repulsive with plaquey teeth and bad breath
  • BO is one area that I think is mostly under control thanks to Dove Invisible Dry with 1/4 soap
  • avoiding hand washing except when its absolutely necessary, meaning much less often than I should

You would think that because I love my husband so much, and because I know that I owe him so much, and want to please him, that these emotions would motivate me to fix these areas. He hopes that I would do it for him, and I’d love to be able to do these things for him, but wanting to do it and doing it are separate entities that rarely collide, I’ve found. Because while I DO want to do it, especially do it for him, wanting it doesn’t give you energy, the kick, the ability to actually get up and do it. I wish. So often, probably daily, my husband may well think that I don’t care enough about him to do one “little” thing for him like clean my teeth. But there’s just something so difficult to overcome in myself to just start to think about doing one of these things. I want to in theory, but practice hasn’t really tallied out on my side.

It’s difficult to explain why its so hard to do these things. After all they’re easy things that most people just do without even thinking about it. But its a common happening in depressed people to get slacker on these things. It’s just one of those things that goes when your mind and your body slow down. It takes 10 minutes of pros and cons to decide that I absolutely can’t go another day without showering, that even my soapy deodorant, dry shampoo and perfume aren’t going to cut it today. Then it takes a good 10 minutes to plan how I’m going to get up, walk the 9 steps to the bathroom (actually 9 steps), clamber into the bath and get the shower going. Then I may actually have a shower, or can it after all and skip another day.

I’m not alone. I was relieved when I found this out. Depression tells you that you’re a slob, and disgusting, and no one wants to be around you, and maybe thats not far off. But knowing that this is a common symptom of depression takes a little of the pressure off, which helps you to take it easy on yourself, which in its own twisted roundabout way means that you’re MORE likely to pick up some of the hygiene slack. So here’s what others have said

“Literally not showering for months. Not changing your clothes for weeks. Not combing your hair for days. Not brushing your teeth for weeks. With depression, hygiene goes out the window.” — Zoe S – The Mighty ‘Worst Symptoms of Depression‘ article.

“Not keeping in touch with anyone, bad personal hygiene and extremely bad reactions to seemingly trivial things.” — Jenny B – Upworthy ‘30 Things Depressed People Do‘ article.

“I love not having to decide if I’m mentally and emotionally prepared to spend time drying my hair after a shower” – a friend who just shaved her head for cancer awareness and fundraising.

“Thinking about going to the gymhaving a shower like”…hopefully this opens to a visual aid giving you an idea of how I think about showers.

But now, a new directive:

“Danika, I strongly encourage you to shower daily” – my psychiatrist

Rats!! *snaps fingers* I was hoping to avoid such a direct instruction!

“Not for hygiene…”

Well that’s surprising! All I’ve considered so far is hygiene.

“…but for your own self-worth. You aren’t showering because of low self-worth, and then not showering further lowers your self-worth. *cue light bulb moment* You have come from a long way back to get back to work and it hasn’t been easy, especially having issues with the pharmacy board and your current job, but you made it. As far as work goes you’re back to where you came from, more or less. Showering daily will reinforce to you that you’re back to where you came from, and improve your self-worth. Your actions inform your mind, just as your mind informs your actions” – my psychiatrist, quoted as near as I can remember.

Well that was all a revelation, I can tell you!

Showering to improve how I think about myself. Not cause its the thing to do, or for hygiene, or cause someone thinks I should. In fact, its all about me! And don’t we like that?

So, here I am the day after yesterday when I talked to my psychiatrist, 5.26pm, wondering when exactly should I have this shower? Cos I’ve managed to not have the time for it so far: dropping off the car to get serviced first thing then doing a jobs run of picking up clothing repairs/script dispensing/groceries/posting a parcel then walking home, breakfast, a nap, another little nap, house inspection, groceries delivered, pick up the car, Officeworks. And now going out to dinner…is there time before? Or when we get home? Hmmm.

I do feel like my head is in a different space though, after that chat. Shout out to my darling husband for dobbing me in to the psychiatrist!! Sheesh!! So, about that shower…

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Canberra Day 69

[Saturday November 19th] A hot dry day with cool to warm morning for riding

I’ve had two early mornings in a row after late nights, like 5am wide awake after midnight bedtimes, so it’s time to be alert but not alarmed as needing less sleep can be the first sign of a “high” or manic episode coming on. It’s nice to have a little more energy though, get a bit more done, drag my feet less, enjoy life that bit more; hopefully it’s just a PMS thing, cos that can happen, or just an oddity. So at 8am, after going back to sleep for a bit, I decided hubby’s suggestion of a morning bike ride was actually a good one. Usually I’m not with it enough to get up until hubby is nearly or actually back home from his ride, so I don’t really get to thinking about what to do while he’s out. But seize the day! Let’s change that up. So off I go exploring, finding my way down to Lake Burley Griffin via some lovely back streets, then around the middle and wetlands loop and a bit of the hilly loop to get there. You never know what you might find in the backstreets; check out the awesome bird street art. I have to say I felt a bit disorientated riding around the lake! It was 8.30am, but what with the second sleep earlier and people’s activities I felt like it was at least lunchtime. I mean who picnics on the edge of the lake at 8.30am in the morning? Who races dragon boats and attends a full boating carnival at 8.30am in the morning? What’s with people, do they hate sleeping in on the weekend? I can understand the people bird watching maybe, because I dropped off at the Jerrabomberra wetlands for a quick peek at the bird hide where a group of elderly were yapping at the top of their voices!! Hello, its a bird hide! Silence is required at all times otherwise what bird in its right mind is going to come close so that we get great views? I asked them to be quiet, one lady paid attention. I asked again and one oldie told me I could come back later! I told him it wasn’t for my convenience, it was the rule of bird hides; they left not long after. It stuck in my craw though!! I also stopped off at the site where they built trenches for soldiers to train in; that was pretty fascinating. Anyway, it was just incredible to see the masses of walkers, joggers, dogs, cyclists all out and about so early. Then home to hang out with hubby. We were planning on going out together but I was fading after all that exercise and emotion, so off for a nap and hubby put his feet up on the couch to chill out for a while.

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If I could design my own wall, I don’t think I could have chosen better!

Our plan was to go to Sparrow hill in Kowen Park which is out off the Bungendore Road past Queanbeyan. It’s a dead end road that I think is a leftover from when they built the current road, and its beautiful with gorgeous green English trees mixed in with the eucalypts and otherwise sandy, rocky, dry bush. They’ve built 40 kilometres of mountain bike paths with linking trails and man alive, are they well used on the weekend compared to when I dropped by the other week! There was a single other car there that day and today I can easily count 20 without hesitating! As the afternoon wore on more and more cars with picnics and bikes and rugs and crates of stuff arrived…turns out there was a juniors 3 hour mountain bike enduro race so all the families were piling in for a nice night in the bush from 4 to 7pm. Meanwhile I wasn’t enjoying the 30 degree heat (yep I know its not that hot but I was dripping!) so I wasn’t budging far at all, and sticking to the shade (which gum trees aren’t really great for), and basically doing as little as possible while trying to watch for birds as much as possible. I didn’t get a great long list, but I was well entertained by a family of Rufous Whistlers that were chasing each other all around me, and challenging me to grab whatever photos I could as they fleetingly touched down then flitted off again to harass each other. Half at least of the satisfaction of bird photography is grabbing a decent photo despite the best efforts of the birds being flighty, the situation (directly over head into the blazing sun!), the weather (overcast, raining), and whatever else comes up (low battery, full memory card, dust on the lens, la di la di la)! Getting home and seeing that the photo turned out as well as I hoped is always a huge thrill! Anyway, an hour mountain bike (MTN) bike ride for hubby, an hour bird watching for me; everyone’s happy! Then a nice fresh dinner of Vietnamese, some groceries and home to chillax as the evening breeze comes drifting in the bedroom door and lounge room floor and makes for a gorgeous evening inside, as much as outside. Delish!

And to top it all off, I problem solved the reason my photo software wasn’t uploading almost by myself, not much hubby input. This is impressive because ever since I started dating hubby and he was studying software, I’ve pretty much left anything technology to him. I have learnt a few things too, but more or less anything out of my immediate knowledge goes to hubby. And he gives me the phrase made famous by the IT crowd: “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”. I’m trying to put my brain to learning a bit more, before the medications kill my memory retention altogether. Let’s see how I go. In typical style, I got my afternoon/evening burst of energy and got stuck into getting my blog up to date and managed to get 2 blogs written. I know I should be writing much less, but my memory being what it is, I’m trying to keep the details in so I can remember it later. I haven’t really been able to convey the sense of the day always, the mood, the weather, but hopefully remembering the things will bring back the feeling of the day. We’ll see.

Canberra Day Thirty!

[Monday 10th October, 2016]

Day Thirty!! Do you know what that means? We’re a third of the way through our adventure! I can’t believe, time has gone so fast. So, time to get cracking on all those other things I plan on doing before we go home! I’ve done a lot but I still have a long list.

This week is World Mental Health Week and today is World Mental Health Day. There are so many days, and weeks, and months, and years that are assigned to different causes these days that it can be hard to have energy for any of them. All I ask is you just take a few minutes to think of your own mental health and make sure you’re okay. And if you’re not, make a plan to do something about it. Don’t just let it be, that never works out well.

So, day thirty. It wasn’t the best of mornings. I woke up with a headache and the pre-pharmacist in me, the uneducated one, tried to sleep it off. Two fitful hours of sleep later and the pharmacist in me finally prevailed and I got up and took 2 Nurofen! The only sensible plan. I love Nurofen, or any of the other brand names of ibuprofen. It really works for me whether it be a headache or period pain. Unfortunately it interacts with one of my mood stabilisers lithium, and so I’m not meant to take it anymore. But because I get severe period pain my psychiatrist has allowed me to take one dose if needed but only rarely. Same for headaches. If I took them together it stops lithium being cleared out of the body through the kidneys. I would get toxic levels of lithium leading to lots of side effects and possibly kidney damage which isn’t to be taken lightly, obviously. So that’s a bit of a pain, but as long as I use ibuprofen sparingly I get by okay. It’s just one of those things.

So, dosed up and ready to roll. Today’s pick was Cockington Green. I’ve been planning to go there since the start and even more so since I won a free day out with Maccas Monopoly! There aren’t many options for redeeming the day out in Canberra, mainly ten tin bowling or the dinosaur museum, but this is one I’m definitely keen on! And it was so worth it; an absolutely fabulous exhibit of 1/12th miniature houses and villages in old England plus an international section of 30 different countries and a mini steam train giving rides. YAY! Unfortunately the weather deteriorated to drizzle and became freezing cold so I did the international exhibit at a breakneck speed trying to out of there before I froze to death! Same with the train ride. Nevermind, I thoroughly enjoyed the main section especially with fairy wrens hopping all over it! But there’s only so much cold you can take even when you’re usually hot blooded like me. So home to put on the central heating and bask in the warmth! A lovely family dinner and games night, there won’t be many more of those! And off to bed.

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It doesn’t really look miniature here because the people and plants are in scale, but its only less than a foot tall.

 

Canberra Day Sixteen

26th September, 2016

Another not-so-Canberra day. It was a bit of touch and go today actually, a bit of a struggle mood wise and energy wise. Today was an ACT public holiday so we’d gone away to NSW where it wasn’t a public holiday, and that plan went pretty well. There’d been a lot of people about on Sunday but it was quiet today. So quiet that the kitchen at the hotel was closed for breakfast, but there was a nice cafe up the road surprisingly so all good; it’s a pretty small town so we weren’t sure what to expect. This was all after I got up, which took several attempts. I’d set my alarm to 7am so I could go birding early while hubby was out on a bike ride. I managed to sit up and go through a bunch of local birding websites and pick out where I wanted to go before slumber forced my eyes shut. I lay down at 8am thinking I’d have another hour til hubby got back, but he got back early; good for him, a struggle for me to get my wits together and uncross my eyes and heave myself up out of bed!

So, no birding. I’d feel disappointed if I could convince myself that I would have actually gone. But I know that really, I liked the idea but wasn’t up for the reality. It was more of a sit-in-the-passenger-seat-and-admire-the-scenery type day. Which is more or less how it went, with the occasional magnificent sandstone cliff and huge Fitzroy waterfall thrown in for some tourist appeal! We drove out of Shoalhaven Heads through the cute tourist town of Berry, drove up and down Berry Mountain with beautiful rainforest scenery and steep roads at the top, and lush farmlands at the bottom.We stopped in Goulburn for lunch, admiring the old fashioned shop fronts and enjoying a nice cafe across from a brilliant display of tulips in the park. Then a quick stop to look out over Lake George, but it was chilly so back in the car for a nap on the way home, then back home for another nap and wait for the day to end. Hopefully a more energetic and inspired day tomorrow!

Of course my inclination is to go through the whys and wherefores, but I’m not sure that I’d get anywhere today. Could I have taken my tablets earlier and not been so hungover? Yes. Could I have gone to bed earlier and been less tired? Yes. Did having a fight with hubby last night drain my energy? Possibly. All probable cause and effect, but I can’t prove for sure what wore me out so its better to move on. I’ll aim to take my tabs and get to bed earlier, and sort out arguments earlier in the day. Good luck with that, me!

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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!

 

 

One of those things

[written sunny Saturday 9th July, 2016; updated 12th July, 2016]

Today I brushed my teeth.

It shouldn’t be a big deal should it, but it is. No one can remember the last time that I brushed my teeth…last year? It’s terrible I know, and doesn’t exactly match my pharmacists’ health promotion ethos, does it? And it’s not something my husband relishes! Or others, possibly; I haven’t heard! But it’s just gotten to be one of those things. You know, those things? Things that you should do, but it’s just a bit too hard. So they’ve slipped down the priority scale, and dropped off the to-do list. I know I have new cavities from being so slack; I can feel them on the lower left side of my mouth when I eat hot food, drink cold drinks, eat something sugary etc. It’s going to need some attention and I’m happy to give it that, but I’ve got an insurance situation to sort out before I can afford it. Soon. Interestingly, or not, I pack my toothbrush every time I go away. I even pack my dental floss, the same dental floss that I’ve had since no one knows when! That’s extreme optimism for you, right there! I don’t know why I think it’s going to be different on holidays, why I think I’ll get it done. I guess it’s something to do with believing I’ll have more time on holidays, that I’ll feel differently on holidays, that everything will fall into place on holidays. But that’s not how it works, is it? What you have at home, your routines, your schedule, your habits, you take on holidays with you. So it just gets put off a little longer, and a little longer. I’ve never been great at this, but I’ve been a heck of a lot better than this, even committing to daily bleaching my teeth for 3 weeks once! It’s probably one of the bigger of those things.

Today I washed my hands.

That, of all things, should NOT be a big deal but washing and drying my hands has become a stand off with myself! It’s like a rebellion against something, I don’t even know what. But you’re supposed to wash your hands, yeah? Well I won’t! Terrible, childish thought process, I know. But it’s there, and it takes a lot of overcoming! Every time I should be washing my hands, this something rises up in me and I just sneak away without doing it. So silly, yet it persists. Obviously because I work in a hospital there are safety limits but a pump of alcohol or chemical based cleaner is a lot easier to me; maybe I should install a couple of home! It’s just one of those things. It’s not that I never wash my hands. If I think an activity warrants it, like dirt from gardening, dusty or greasy hands from my bike, food matter etc then yes they get a good wash; or a good rub down on a hand towel that will disguise it! I’m practically a kid when it comes to this! It’s the little times when my hands aren’t dirty, but its tradition (and probably hygiene!) like before a meal, after a meal, little things. In my mind. Probably not in others minds, but it feels like unnecessary energy that I can’t afford to waste, so I save my efforts for something more essential, as least to my way of thinking. It’s one of those things which seem like why wouldn’t you just do it, but I feel like it will take too much energy. It’s a fight with myself.

Today I walked one kilometer.

Walking, any walking, has become a big deal since I got sick. I never used to think about the things I asked my body to do. I walked as long as I needed, I ran for exercise, I loved swimming for fun, weights were my favourite form of exercise, I’ve done a couple of bootcamps including one at a boxing gym, pilates was my relaxation, and so on. But now, I struggle a lot with it! For various reasons, I suppose: I’m fat and heavy, I’m slow and sluggish, it takes energy and effort and motivation, I’d rather catch ANY other form of transportation, my legs rub together and chafe til they’re red raw unless I wear undershorts or leggings, it drains my mind and my body, and I’ve come to associate it with pain and suffering. I know, a little over dramatic! But there you have it, it’s one of those things! This walk in particular was slow, and it wasn’t for exercise; it was for bird watching and photography. But hey, it was outside in the sun and breeze, and it was a kilometer. I take it however I get it, and don’t sneeze at the little bits of exercise however they come. I’m meant to be exercising more. Well that was more than yesterday, more than the day before, and more in one go than I’d done for the whole week and probably longer so I’m counting it as a win!

Today I rode my bike.

And it reminded me that I do love my bike! I’d forgotten that. I quickly forget the joys, and never-endingly remember the pains; it’s not a good way to be! I keep planning to ride with Wheel Women and sign myself up for rides optimistically hoping I’ll feel like it by the time they comes around. But then I pull out closer to the day as it becomes clearer that not having left the house or changed out of PJs for 2 days, it really isn’t going to be likely that I’ll be up and dressed by 8.30am ready to drive 45 minutes across the city! Or I heave a sigh of relief when a planned ride is cancelled due to rain, path flooding or wild weather. Then I roll over and go back to sleep. Well that’s been the pattern lately while I haven’t been well. Before today I hadn’t ridden or been on my bike even since the 3rd of June! Five weeks out of it! I think I’ve had 5 weeks out of a lot of things, to be honest. It’s been reasonably bleak for me and with me, and that’s when all of these things, those things, fall away because it’s too much effort to keep them going. But flying downhill brought on that high, that endorphin burst and suddenly I was in my zone, loving it! And I flew all the way home, even up the hills, and that was that, I was back, mentally. And when you’re there mentally, you’re there!

Today I climbed hills on my bike.

If you know me and my riding, you know about me and hills; we have a difficult relationship! Frankly, right now, I’m not built for going up hills! My weight is very much against me when trying to defy gravity by going up. Nevertheless, the hills are there and they do come across my path, and at the end of the day I do have to get up them somehow. So when Wheel Women ran a class on climbing, cornering and descending, it sounded like exactly the skill set that I could benefit from! So how did I get to that class when I hadn’t gotten to any other rides? My innate cheapness!! I put down money for this class, little though it be, but it’s a powerful motivator in someone with Scottish blood, however diluted it be! And I did learn some super helpful tips to help me up those hills. And then I flew down them again, but that’s the fun bit, the bit that gives you a rush! The other bit, the climbing is different, but I guess it’s a means to an end if you like. It’s still hard. But I did it today! I conquered one of those things, at least for now.

At the end of the day, what a day?!

Better than I’ve had in quite a while! I’ve been struggling with depression lately and it has sucked, but suddenly on Thursday night when I woke up from my nap, something shifted! I was high, elevated in an energetic and motivated frame of mind. Just like that! If only I could click my fingers and get that result! Who on earth knows what it was that tipped me over, impossible to figure out. But YAY!

So what you’re seeing here is the chemicals in my brain giving me a booster shot to actually manage to do some of those things. I even cooked tea one night this week! Rare event these days! When the chemicals all line up, life is good. It’s easy, way less effort, far less forcing myself around. It just happens and we’re all relieved. And vice versa, you understand. But for now, for however little time I have this little break, it’s nice to use it to do something. It’s not perfect. My ride was still hard! The hills still hurt. My walking was still slow, although that was more for the sake of finding birds, and it wasn’t far, but still. I washed my hands but not all the time. And I brushed my teeth.

What I didn’t do today was shower. It’s probably the hugest of the things. To get into our shower you have to climb into the bathtub. Every time I think of having a shower, I think of having to hoick my leg over the side and it just seems like too much effort! It’s such a small thing, right, but it literally seems like it’s impossible. Once I’m in its great; I love a nice hot shower and feeling clean again, once I’m there. It’s just the getting started, which is after all, the issue with all of these things; getting started. It’s pretty much classic depression: issues with motivation, energy, self care. It is amazing what lengths I’ll go to not to have a shower, and how long I’ll go between showers. And by amazing, I also mean embarrassing! After Bali, I had a mega battle and I almost lost count but I think I went more than two weeks and no shower, and unwashed hair! You may have noticed! I still used deodorant and perfume so hopefully I didn’t stink, but it wasn’t a nice episode and finally my husband had to drag me to the shower and make me get in. And it was delightful! All that fuss and bother and argument, vanished, and I had a lovely time and came out feeling wonderful! It’s one of those things!!

That’s today [read: Saturday 9th July]. Tomorrow we have to wake up and do it again so we won’t get too carried away, but today those things have had a bit less hold over me.

So, the next day: Sunday morning, the hardest morning of the week. Mainly because I ideally would aim be up and going earlier than I may have done for the other 6 days of the week. But today I was up by 9am and actually feeling like I was up and going, not sluggish or doped out. My anticipation of the coming Sunday can mean that I go to bed late, and so not take my tablets til late just before I go to bed, and so I can be a bit sedated by the effect of my tablets lasting well into the morning. I have this contrary thought process that not going to bed will prolong the next day’s arrival…obviously it’s just the opposite. But it’s another reason why waking up Sunday is a complicated thing. Sunday morning is also traditionally when I wash my hair. I should really change that, if common sense prevails. It’s just another thing to get past to get to church: waking up, clearing my head, getting fed and watered and tabletted, showering, dressing and getting out the door not long after ten.

But today was pretty successful. I actually had a shower, and even dug out some moisturizer and did my legs! A miracle of a day! I’m energetic but not irritably manic, the best way to be. Touch wood for more days like these. I’m active, I’m wanting to fill in my day instead of hiding from it; I’m like a normal person!! YAY!

Upbeat

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

– Amy Adams, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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