Finding the light

Hello friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

SANE 1800 18 7263

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

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

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

Victorian State Suicide Help Line 1300 651 251

Mensline 1300 78 9978

Veterans and veterans families counselling service 1800 011 046

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

Carers Australia 1800 242 636

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

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Dozy

Dear lovely readers, I am having the best time! I’m well, I’m happy, I’m productive, I’m energetic, not needing as much sleep or naps, I’m doing stuff, back on my bike, I’m out taking photos of birds, socialising, I’m having house guests, getting organised, spring cleaning of all things!! It’s remarkable and it’s thanks to my psychiatrist, thanks to the extra purple pill per day that I’m taking and thanks to my brain for accepting the intervention gracefully and allowing these happy days. I owe thanks to every lovely person who checks in on me when I’m unwell, so thank you so much; I’m glad I can write good news!

[Written a couple of weeks ago on One Of Those Days! I’ve been too busy living a happy life to write this week! YAY!]

Today I didn’t wake up, not altogether. I’m feeling a bit dazed, and a lot like there is a thick fog well settled well over my brain, and down over my neck, my shoulders and half way down my chest!

I’m struggling to open my eyes, and to keep them open, more to the point. They certainly aren’t fully opening. They just have an irresistible almost magnetic draw to close, and the sleep in the corners of my eyes clagging them together is adding to the problem. You know those moments, when people say they need matchsticks to prop open their eyelids? Except that’s usually at the end of the day, not the start of it. Bleary eyed, irritated and itchy, my eyes just aren’t ready for a new day. I realise this isn’t a first in the history of humans. Other people wake up like this too, it’s not just me. But this is after a full night’s sleep, a good rest. I should be rearing to go.

My whole body feels like its wrapped in a deliciously warm lovely blanket from which it would have to put up a great and tiring fight to escape. Well, I guess that’s not so metaphorical; I am still in bed, and I roll around enough in the night that it’s quite likely I’m twisted tight in the sheets by morning. My body is heavy and weighty and it just seems too hard to move it at all. And why would I want to put in that level of effort when I’m in such a nice situation? Oh yeah, to be the adult that I apparently am. But I can’t really think straight enough even to start planning what shape the day is going to take. What time do I need to get up again? And do I really need to get up, or can I cancel whatever I had planned? Assuming I can actually get this hefty body up out of bed. It’s like I’ve lost all muscle tone and I have to use my mind like a lifting machine to lift each dead weight limb, one at a time and they won’t cooperate! You know, one of those caterpillar diggers with the lifting clamp? Or one of the machines that nurses use, whichever environment is easier for you to visualize.

Drowsy, thick in the head, awful eyes, impossible body, can’t see where to start. And it’s my fault, my husband would remind me! Love you, baby; you really know how to phrase these statements. I am of course joking, he only says it nicely and when I know its the truth anyway.

But it’s true, it is my fault, in a manner of speaking. I took my tablets too late last night, and now I’m hung over. Basically.

I take my tablets by alarm, sort of. When you are prescribed a medicine that has to be taken twice a day, you should ideally take the 2 doses 12 hours apart. Says Miss Pharmacist, but what does Mrs Patient do? So, when will you take it?

It actually takes a bit of working out. Will you take your tablets at 7am and 7pm? 8am and 8pm? Really anything 12 hours apart works. Except there’s a complication because one of the tablets that you take at night with the second dose makes you drowsy and then comatose! It kicks in anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes usually. Sometimes it doesn’t really kick in for ages and I can stay up for an hour longer or more, but sometimes it kicks in fast and that’s it for the day. When I feel it starting to make my eyelids heavy and my insides warm and fuzzy, I head upstairs before I can’t stand straight anymore from dizziness and lack of balance! Please never try to see me at this time of night: the whole whites of my eyes go reddish and I scare myself looking in the mirror! It’s all gone by morning thankfully. In the past I’ve tried to push through the sedating effects but they won’t be argued with! I’ve crashed my way around my bedroom, lurching from wall to wall unbalanced and unable to see straight, and unfortunately having to go to the bathroom! There I sit, having done with the toilet, unsure if I can stand up and get back to my bed next door, feeling weak and heavy as a dead weight. Ask my husband, I think he’s had some interesting amusements in the early days of me using this drug! I’m talking about quetiapine, a mood stabiliser very well known for the drowsiness that it causes, among other things.

So, theoretically I could take my morning tablets at whatever time, then most of my evening tablets 12 hours later, then the sedating medication when I’m ready to go to bed…but that means having life interrupted 3 times a day instead of 2. It sounds trivial when I’m taking so many meds crucial to my health, but when I’m well I’d rather not spend all day taking tablets. So I want my meds in two convenient slots, but what times? If I’m working, this is especially critical. I want to take my meds before work, say 8am. But I don’t want to take my sedating tablets at 8pm and go to bed with the children. Plus its so early in the evening that I’m be sure to be awake bright and early at 4am or something inconvenient! So I tend to push out the night dose to 9pm, 10pm or later. If I’m busy, I just wait til I’m finished doing whatever I’m doing and I’m ready to go to bed and THEN I take them. I intend to get to the point where I’m NEARLY ready for bed, take my tablets and get a little sleepy while finishing off whatever, and go to bed nice and drowsy read to go off to a deep sleep. But I often forget and finish what I’m doing completely before taking my meds. The later I take them, the more likely it is that their effect will hang over into the morning. By much trial and error over 2 years, we’ve figured out that 9 to 9.30pm is the ideal time to take my meds at night, giving me possibly up to 10pm to do whatever in the evening and allowing me to wake up fresher. But unfortunately last night I took my sedating tablets at 11.30pm! Which messes up my system, although it is a fairly flexible system to be honest! When my night tablet alarm goes off I’m just as likely to snooze or ignore as I am my morning alarm. Some little rebellion in me about having to take meds. It never works out well for me. And so, here we are. Sedated, drowsy, heavy, tired; finding it hard to get going.

It’ll get better but slowly, across the course of the day, and it’s probably just going to be one of those days where I shouldn’t drive, need to find something riveting to do to keep me awake, or just succumb and stay in/go back to bed! I guess this is one of those days where not having a job works out for me. I might manage to get up and go to work on a day like this, but it’s questionable what quality of work I would produce, and it’s probably in most people’s best interest that I don’t go at all. So if I’m working, I need to be a lot stricter with myself in taking my meds on time. There’s a fascinating concept called presenteeism which I recently became aware of. You know, like absenteeism where you’re absent from work? Except this is when you are unwell, under stress or otherwise compromised in some way, but you turn up anyway and consequently put in a worse day of work than you might usually. A workplace was looking at how much presenteeism cost them as opposed to absenteeism, and whether it is really better sometimes for staff to just stay home. Doing so would theoretically reduce errors, complications, injuries that may arise from incomplete focus. I don’t know how they’ll measure any of it, but I’m watching on with great interest.

So yes I supposed you could say that being hung over and non functional is my fault. I get tempted to have late nights, to be like everyone else, carefree and not worrying about things like tablets. I know it’ll catch up with me the next day, but in the evening when it’s all going down it doesn’t seem as bad as it will be in the morning. So I push out the time a bit here and a bit there, a lot here, too much there! I do have to be careful that I don’t get myself into a different time zone, taking my tabs at 11pm and 11am or worse and really messing up my hours. While I’m off work I can be a rebel and mess up my sleep pattern and sleep in til lunchtime. Who cares, basically! But work is something that I want and need, and when it comes it’s back to taking tablets by the alarm. Like a good girl. For the best.

Departure lounge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to add one more departure to the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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