4 years

6th March, 2018

Well I had other ideas for today’s blog, but Facebook reminded me that today 4 years ago I was recovering at home, supervised by my hubby working from home, after a VERY long afternoon/night in the emergency department having finally come to the crunch point of my nervous breakdown.

It was the first day of many days off work: 6th March 2014 to 22nd July 2015.

It felt long!

It felt like it would never to over, that life would just trickle by forever. Me at home, on my own, barely able to fill the hours of the day, just dragging along until the next…what? Hour, day, week, year?

After 18 years of full time school; 4 years of full time study plus part time work; an intern year of full time work and study; and 4 years working full time (apart from a period of 9 day fortnights during 2013 for health/stress reasons, and a brave if futile attempt to get back to work and save my job by dragging myself 2 days a week to work in the outpatient dispensary at the Alfred in the month before my contract expired late 2014) it was a shock!

I didn’t know what to do with myself physically, let alone mentally. So came a long list of attempted hobbies to try to fill up my time, more or less successfully. 4 years on, some have stuck, some haven’t, but it’s a different problem now: finding time for those hobbies! Time for bird watching, for photography, for blogging, and my re-discovered love of gardening. I’m back at work, currently 4 to 5 days a week! Who would have ever thought?! And it’s cramping my style! How’s that for ironic? For months, years in fact I’m dying to get back to work, really back to working full time or close to it, and 5 minutes later I’m missing my me time!!

It could be worse. If anyone can say that it’s me. I was worse, I’ve been worse; so I really know that it could be worse. I do. But it’s the perspective you have at the time that frames how you see things. And my perspective now is mental wellness and relatively good physical health, so the smaller things weigh more, like doing my hobbies! It’s not a bad place to be, hey? Four years on.

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Canberra Day Twelve

I had such a wonderful surprise on Tuesday! I was idly wandering around Facebook when I saw a post from some old friends that I grew up with from about 3 or 4 years old which showed their location as Canberra! I thought, really? So I messaged them and yep we had managed to coincide in a city that neither of us had really been to before! So we organised to catch up for dinner and it was the best night! All the years and events that have passed since I left home 10 years ago haven’t changed a thing and it was a fabulous evening of yummy Thai food and chatting about everything under the sun.

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So the cake, what’s that about? Well, while this family have been on Victorian school holidays visiting Canberra, the youngest girl had her birthday and this was the cake she had. It was huge, tall and sugary with the fakest colours available, a horror to some of the family who wouldn’t choose this kind of thing ordinarily, and only half eaten. They’re moving on Saturday and really can’t take the cake with them. So a condition of our catch up was coming back to the hotel to eat cake! Not the worst thing in the world hey…and the absolute delight of hubby who will eat anything colourful! Fruit loops, smartie smiley face cookies, sprinkles, cakes of exactly this description etc. It was delicious, but I didn’t get through it; turned out it was pretty sweet after all! But what a lovely way to end the day: old friends and familiar faces in an unfamiliar city. Bliss!

Otherwise the day was washing, drying, folding, making phone calls I’ve been putting off for ages, writing emails I’ve been putting off for ages, organising a catch up, trying to decide on accomodation for a long weekend coming up, and watching for rain so I could decide when to do a bike ride. Turns out that I watched for rain all day and it never rained. But then it was the end of the day. And I didn’t get to ride. I wonder where I went wrong? In my defense it poured the entire previous day. So. Also, I realise as I’m writing this down what a social day I had; quite unusual for me generally. I must be going pretty well at the moment. I guess I already knew that, but it’s nice to have proof.

 

Pregnancy

What could I do, I had to like it! It just made me think of myself, in a kind of funny.kind of truthful way!, gorilla, grass

What could I do, I had to like it! It just made me think of myself, in a kind of funny.kind of truthful way!

This popped up in my Facebook feed the other day from Brindabella and I actually laughed out loud! The expression ‘lol’ is so overused online that it has lost all meaning, but this is one situation where it was actually appropriate.

I laughed because over a few months I gradually increased in weight  until suddenly one day I looked in the mirror and realised I looked like this! Not a fun realisation! I mentioned it to my hubby and he agreed that he’d thought for a while now that I looked pregnant! Always helpful but he was kind about it. But its the truth so what can you do.

I should clarify here that I’m not pregnant; the weight is due to indulgence, medication side effects and the symptoms of mental illness. Just to be clear.

But anyway, somehow being that shape and seeing this gorilla translates to funny in my brain…not sure why, but I guess it’s amusing to see yourself mirrored in another species, and to see a big round belly, flabby arms and a double chin on a cute-ish animal looking equally unhappy about the situation!

The weird thing is, I know I’m overweight to the point of exploding over the obese line. But somehow my brain hasn’t caught up. Maybe because it happened so fast and unexpectedly, maybe because I’m in denial a bit…not sure why. I kind of knew already that my brain was lagging behind, but it became most apparent when I was in Thailand recently. Sitting on the boat in just my bathers, swimming in the pool, jumping off the boat into the water carefree and happy in front of everyone else, walking around at lunchtime feeling completely comfortable with my body the whole time. Which was a really nice feeling instead of hating it and wanting it to be different.

Until…I looked back and saw the photos! My big round tummy, double chin, fat cheeks and eyes deep in puffy sockets…ergh! Then I was not happy! Then I was not comfortable with my figure! Photos are kind of the cold hard truth that shoot you down out of your dreamy sky and bring you down with a big hard bang to reality!

I can kind of understand the idea behind body dysmorphic disorder now. I don’t have it and I’m not suggesting I do…but the brain is powerful and can really twist reality sometimes. To be one way, and consider yourself to be another way is…well in this case it’s kind to me to a point, but I guess when it comes to addiction or something like that it is very unhelpful, because you think you’re okay when really you are not. It can be unhelpful to me too I suppose, because when I’m looking at a block of chocolate I think it’ll be okay instead of considering my obesity and how chocolate is really not okay!

Here’s the other thing. When I was first really unwell, the psychologist and the doctor and all the self help websites told me to do nice things to and for myself to help me feel just a bit better. Have a bath, eat your favourite food, watch your favourite show, go to your favourite place either physically or shut your eyes and imagine you are there. So chocolate, a hot chocolate, a bowl of yoghurt…whatever you love, was okay to eat anytime and all the time to help get you through the difficult days.

Except there was no limit put on that habit…so I just kept going and going. A limit would have been good, but realistically I was unwell for months while we tried fluoxetine, venlafaxine, sertraline, sertraline plus mirtazepine, sertraline plus quetiapine, desvenlafaxine plus quetiapine, reboxetine plus quetiapine and full circle to venlafaxine plus quetiapine and finally venlafaxine plus quetiapine plus lithium, the best yet! All of those antidepressants working a bit or not much, until finally the correct diagnosis of bipolar and the life-changing prescription of lithium.

And still the end date for self indulgence hasn’t been set.

I’m better; I’m not back to where I’d like to be. I have more energy; but still need my daily naps. I have more resilience; but some days I just need something external to make me feel better. I’m trying to cut down on my treats and snacks; but it’s hard!

And here’s my shortlist of how fatness that looks like pregnancy is different to pregnancy:

1) In pregnancy, you know what to expect and you prepare your body. You moisturise and Bio-oil your belly to prevent stretch marks. In fatness, stretch marks pop up out of the blue completely unexpected and you have no warning to prepare for that.

2) In pregnancy you get the baby most times, not always. In fatness you just have the rumours, the questions, the look without the baby at the end. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I think this is a bad thing or a good thing….I’ll get back to you.

3) In pregnancy you deliver the baby and the belly size reduces a bit, then gradually reduces slowly back to somewhere near where you started. In fatness, these is no initial tummy reduction; you just start from wherever you are and gradually reduce it hopefully also to somewhere near where you started. So actually, the two conditions can be pretty similar in this regard.

Well that’s about all I have to say about fatness and pregnancy at this point in time.

I started and stopped the gym, I did a few food coaching sessions, I returned to pilates for a bit, I go on and off calorie restriction, we’re trying to do daily walks, I’m trying to get back on my bike on the trainer in the shed, I’m trying to walk past my favourite snacks.

It’s a work in progress; I’ll get there one day. And for now, my attempt is to be kind to myself and remember why I came to be where I am, and whenever I can, to do bits and pieces to help me along the way to getting where I want to go.

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*

Wired

Today I spent four hours without looking at my phone.

It’s sad that this is a fact worthy of comment. I’m not proud.

This came about because I had the opportunity to visit with a lovely girl who I hope will become a good friend. I checked my phone before I walked in the door then put my bag containing my phone down, and never thought of it again til three hours later. Even then I left my phone in my bag untouched, and didn’t check it until I was about to walk out the door.

This is definitely some kind of record. Being home and somewhat unoccupied I have gotten into a bit of a phone checking habit…actually this was a good going habit from well before I stopped work.

I say stopped work in the absence of a better expression; I didn’t actively stop work, I just got so unwell that I couldn’t keep being and had to go get emergency help.

Throughout my experience with mental and physical unwell-ness in the last eighteen months my anxiety and distress have generated a number of habits, some helpful some detrimental some iffy. One of these is checking. Checking checking checking.

What do I check on my smartphone?

All my ‘things’: Ebay active selling, sold, unsold, messages and reminders; email inbox, social box and promotions box for my personal email; email inbox for my professional email; email inbox for my work email (uff! I’m exhausted already!); my calendar for events and things ‘to do’; Facebook in case someone or something has said or done or manufactured something of vague interest; the weather for today, tomorrow, the week just so I know; my mobile banking in case someone has unexpectedly paid me a million dollars in the last hour; my mobile service provider for my internet usage in case I’m close to the limit and they forgot the notification text; Words with Friends in case someone desperately wants to play me and again the notifications failed; Fitbit if I’m wearing and have charged my device to see how many steps I’m up to for the day; and of course I have to check my stats for this my lowly blog to see if anyone cares about my self centric postings!

Yep, ummm…I don’t have too much more to say about that! Sometimes I shortlist that to Ebay, calendar, Facebook, Words, WordPress; and I will justify the extensive list to say that it’s quicker to check these things than it is to write about or read about them!

Why didn’t I need to check my phone for that long, when at home I would be checking it almost constantly?
I just didn’t think of it. I was distracted, with new surroundings, a new friend, delightful pets, with hobbies and chatting and food and life. My phone alert was set to vibrate only instead of sounds which deprived me of (or benefitted me without) any audible reminders. And I wasn’t lacking in occupation; I was talking, laughing, photographing…instead of checking checking checking.

Amazing! Now how can I replicate this phenomenon at home…?

What did I find when I finally checked it?
Two missed calls, 4 messages, 3 notifications from Metro about train delays, a couple of Facebook notifications, a update reminder for some apps and a calendar alert. And an Ebay message and some emails and a Words with Friends game prompt.

A lot of stuff!

Any of it vital?

Well it was too late to do anything about the missed calls and most of the messages, one message could be sorted out tomorrow, the public transport notifications were irrelevant (I was driving) and this continues my gripe with the Metro app; that you can’t choose notifications for selected services only.

The Facebook notifications weren’t at all relevant, I updated the apps, the calendar reminder was for tomorrow, the Ebay message was easily answered, the emails could all be archived and so I wiped it all from my mind and got stuck into Words with Friends 🙂
So really, nothing that would be terribly missed…nothing vastly important; certainly not enough to fret over or to warrant fidgeting if I was unable to check for them.

But this all continues a theme that has been going along in my mind for a while, about how wired in I tend to me the majority of the time. And surely I can’t be the only one?

I have been participating in a mindfulness class over the last few weeks and I was initially quite daunted and still continue to be fascinated with the struggle it can be to let go of my white knuckled grip on the here and now, to just sit. Or lie. Or be, in any pose. To let the body come to rest and be still. Just quiet, doing nothing, thinking nothing, being nothing in particular; just resting.

I find it hard. My body wants to twitch. I want to roll over or change position. I want to wiggle my fingers and toes. It’s hard to just be still! And that’s just the body! Then there is the mind! Sitting quietly and having no other occupation than using your senses and paying attention to the mind ticking over gives a lot more room to notice all of the jumbled thoughts that are swirling around in my brain. I’m still sitting on the fence about whether this is beneficial or unecessary.

I initially started being so wired in because I didn’t want my thoughts. Particularly in the days when I was battling with anxiety I wanted to get as far away from my thoughts as possible.

I didn’t want to think about what it would be like if the global financial crisis hit us and we became homeless, or if the war spread and we were horribly mutilated in a bomb blast or if the end of the world came today at afternoon tea time or if all the children endured hideous burns in a fiery bus crash or if the global warming crisis caused my house that was built on a filled-in swamp to be completely inundated and we were swept away in the floods and watched horrified as relatives and friends drowned before our eyes or etc etc!

When you have anxiety or depression it is common to catastrophise. I wish I knew this a long time ago! I first heard the term with my new GP in October/November; can’t remember exactly when. By then I’d been battling with anxiety at least for six months or more and I really wish I’d known that this whirling dervish inside my head was just a symptom, perfectly normal for someone with anxiety, completely manageable, nothing to worry about.

Because when you start worrying about the worrying, everything turns pear shaped and gets out of control very quickly! So to avoid thinking about the thoughts or in fact noticing them at all I’d turn up the radio, try to force my concentration onto some reading, turn up a video, trying to override my brain with other things. Checking my things distracted me for a short while which was good enough for me; any kind of break from myself.

As I’ve gotten more well I’ve realised that these habits have become problematic and are kind of disrupting my plans for a new life. So there’s work to be done to wind back some of the checking, some of the background noise, some of the distractions.

It’s a work in progress. There’s a ways to go but every time I have a little success it’s nice because it gives me a glimpse of what could be, of life unattached to noise or distractions and just lived in full awareness of what’s around going on around me and able to cope with that!

And that looks lovely to me. Here’s to it!