Job update

Hello? Is anybody out there? Is anyone still listening?

Apologies for the radio silence over the last few months. It wasn’t for lack of ideas and thoughts to share, but more for lack of motivation and follow through. It’s been a long, cold winter for me! How about you?

The run-down of this winter is coming in instalments, because a lot has happened despite the long cold. First off, and the main event, an update on work.

I quit my old job in August, yep the same one that I started in April, and moved on to another job. I’ve never “given up” so soon! But it was a good move, probably the best career move I’ve ever made despite quitting being seen generally as a negative thing. Four months in community pharmacy, and I’m done! It wasn’t the community, it was the pharmacy, more specifically the management of the pharmacy, and more especially the owner/manager/slacker/ingrate/greedy pig/jerk. I’ve done that fight in a job once, and it changed the course of my mental health for life! This time, I knew enough not to stay, and I’m proud of that! It shows that I learnt something that first time around, and that’s a victory. As soon as I realised that the situation wasn’t going to change (another thing I’m proud of recognising this time around) and that my initiative was unappreciated, I started planning my departure.

And karma smiled. Well I don’t believe in karma, or the universe, or fate. But everything fell into place like it would if you did believe in one or the other of those things. I monitored the regular SEEK pharmacist job alerts that I’d signed up to receive before this job, as well as the Society of Hospital Pharmacists job register. I was still searching for my escape route (you know, never leave a job until you’ve got another job), when I got a call from Slade Pharmacy at Epworth Private Hospital in Richmond asking if I would like to interview for a casual position! Ah yes! I would definitely like to interview for a job with flexible hours in a hospital, albeit the dispensary! Especially since you called me; is this a dream come true? So why did they call me? Turns out that when I interviewed for them last year and didn’t get the job, they said “can we keep your resume on file?” and meant it! How about that? I thought it was just a line that everyone says when you don’t get a job as a consolation that maybe in the future there’ll be something there for you. But this time there’s an actual consolation prize in form of a job! Amazing.

So, interview, check. Job offer, check. Give notice that I’m leaving, check. Get obnoxious response from boss, check. Leave job feeling even better about my decision to leave, check. His response when I said I was leaving? “That’s a relief. Return the keys. Retail is not for you”! Sorry. You’re wrong. Retail pharmacy is for me, in fact during uni days I worked in retail pharmacy for 3 years and had a great time. But you’re right, the way you mis-manage it, it’s not for me. Ciao!

Usually when someone is looking for work, changing jobs, planning a career or whatnot, they consult their own needs and maybe that of a partner or family member. It comes down to what you want from a job, where you want to work, what you want to do in your job and that’s it. That’s true for me too, but in my case, there are a few other factors that contribute as well.

Number one: how will this job affect my health? That’s always the first consideration nowadays. Do you ever even think about this when considering a job? I certainly never did before I got sick. Could I work fulltime, could I manage the stress, how would I manage my workload? I never even thought about these as issues, I never thought about it period. I just knew inside myself that I would manage whatever came to me. I never doubted being able to do whatever job I got. I didn’t understand there being any option but doing the job well and going home to rest before going back the next day. Until the last year of my first job led to my physical health falling apart, and my mental health beginning to deteriorate. My second job was endlessly fulfilling but my mental health was already on the way out and too far gone for me to hold my head together, so I had to bow out. Ever since then I’ve been returning to work and thinking about what I can physically and mentally manage in a job.

Number two: what do my doctors think? Their opinion isn’t the end of the matter, but it has a lot of weight and sometimes it does decide the issue. My psychiatrist for instance has an old-school understanding of what hospital pharmacists do, but a very up-to-date understanding of how my previous jobs have affected my mental health. His current stipulation has been no hospitals, which of course I’ve found very challenging to accept! Hospitals are my place, I’m sure of it, but the politics of my first and third hospital jobs have been tough on my health for different reasons. So, I did what he suggested and tried retail pharmacy. I wasn’t very enthusiastic at first, but I tried to see it as a challenge, as a chance to update and broaden my drug knowledge and expand my mind with a different type of practice. But unfortunately, I found a great job in a terrible environment. I tried hard to make it work, but it began to drag me down after a couple of months and my psychiatrist could see that clearly, once referring to my ex-boss as Frankenstein’s brother, and another time as a peasant which amused me greatly! But still, when I broached my new job at Slade Pharmacy with him, I went cautiously and emphasised the words dispensary, retail, community pharmacy, and minimised the word hospital. But as it turns out, that first job as a casual dispensary pharmacist starting in September was easy to sell. Meanwhile my GP is supportive of anything that I want to put my hand to, even recommending I just not work for a while longer if it suited me. But getting back to work has always been a driving force with me, for better or for worse.

A week into my casual dispensary role, I heard someone dropping the words job and emergency department!! Wait!! What?? My favourite ever job so far! On offer right here? Where I already have a job? Ears pricked, senses heightened, on full alert I went into action finding out as much as I could. As soon as possible I interviewed for and was then offered later that week a role in the emergency department, 2 weeks into my casual dispensary position. I was more hesitant in telling my psychiatrist about that. I used words like part time, structured, working with another pharmacist, dedicated time, no involvement with the main hospital. But it went over easily. He saw how the community pharmacy thing went; we tried that. So now this is a new thing that I wanna try, and we’ll watch and wait this time.

The third and last factor is a third party checking in on the progress of my work. I’m receiving income protection payments from an insurer, and they check in on me every month. There’s a lot of filling in of forms by myself and my GP, supplying payslips when I’m working, and periodic check ins with a “rehabilitation consultant” who keeps tabs on my work and my health, and a case manager who keeps tabs generally. They do keep the pressure on to remain in paid work, of course, and they aim to get me back to full time work, something that I’m by no means convinced is possible. When I wasn’t happy in that retail job, I did experience some pressure from them to keep going rather than quit, but I was sure I was doing the right thing, and now in hindsight they agree. It’s just another little something in the mix that complicates my plans for what work I want to do and how I want to do it.

I’m back…

[Started on December 9th]

“I’m back, baby doll…”

-one of favourite quotes from How I Met Your Mother

I’m baa-ack. It’s been a month, apparently. It felt a lot longer! I only know this fact of it being a month since I was here from opening my blog today for the first time since … so it tells me … the 9th of November.

Wow.

And during that time I actually thought up zero topics, had zero inclination to write anything and was pretty much happy to climb into a hole and be a hermit for the rest of my natural life. But the light has broken through and here I am.

It’s been a very full month. I’m trying. A trip away to Werribee, days out of the house doing stuff, hanging out with girlfriends, some actual real live housework. There were, surprisingly, some pretty great times.

And then there were days when I wore my pajamas until 5pm and only left my bed to eat. But you know, looking for the upside!!

There was one amazing week where I thought I’d finally broken through the depression glass ceiling into what normal life could be like, and I loved it! So did my GP: ‘Imagine if this is how life could be from now on? That would be f*@%*^# awesome’. His words, not mine! Just to clarify. But yes, why yes, yes it would.

Sadly for me and anyone my life bumps up against, it was mania.

Oh mania, you heartbreaking devil you. You get us so excited and hopeful and relieved and let us sniff “normal” for 5 minutes, before depression overcomes us again and we all sink back into the swamp!

Normal, or a bit more overdone than normal; either way, it’s a nice change from blergh, uff and erk!

But it wasn’t devastating when mania went this time. Well not as devastating. This time. I’m getting more resilient gradually.

[Updated from here in later December but the computer wiped all my additions and made me so angry I gave up on it! Then I vowed to complete it on January 9th but when the date came around I was staying in a motel without WIFI…ahh the horrors of modern life! So here I am, Feb 9th…and finally I’m back! And saving my draft after every word!!]

Thankfully, bit by bit, episode by episode, high by low by high by low I am taking it less personally, getting less excited and less distraught when my brain chemistry flicks the switch and lands me somewhere I wasn’t prepared for.

So says my mouth, and my head. So I wish, so I hope. And maybe sometimes that’s the case, that I’m less wrung out over it. Maybe.

But actually now that I’m slipping down the slidey slope again I find myself not so okay with that. I don’t want to go down there again. I don’t want to be like that again. But it seems that I’m not being consulted in the matter of what goes on in my own head.

Ironic, isn’t it? My own head, taken hostage by chemicals. Chemicals that don’t even have brains or thinking power or motives – but they pack quite the punch! We’re doing all we can to oppose them but it’s turning out to be more of a war than just a battle.

I’ve been told over that I have tricky brain chemistry. At first I thought it was one of those placating remarks all doctors make to help ease you through the rough period between the diagnosis of depression and the onset of full medication effect, which can be up to 6 or 8 weeks at times in some people.

Although I guess I didn’t hear it said first until I was trying the 5th antidepressant; but I definitely needed to hear something at that point to convince me that I should still hold hope that this one would work! My doctor told me that every time an antidepressant didn’t work, we were one step closer to finding the one that would; we were one step closer to getting better; the depression was one step closer to showing us how it was working and what we could do to oppose it.

That’s a lot of talking for a chemical to do!

Time and experience have unfortunately proved the fact to be true. I have tricky brain chemistry. It’s difficult for the medications that we have available to match the chemicals that are lacking from, but should be in, my brain keeping me from becoming anxious, depressed, manic or a swinging monkey between all three moods!

I’d love to be one of those people who gets diagnosed with depression, gets prescribed whatever antidepressant their doctor has on their mind that week, tolerates it well and after a year or so with successful treatment and other supports, undertakes a careful withdrawal of their medication under supervision of their doctor and continues on with their life drug/medication free. Not trivialising their sufferings, just envious of their rapid and successful long term improvement and freedom from medications.

Of course that doesn’t happen in bipolar disorder; only in depression. Bipolar is not a condition that remits; it’s a life sentence. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s quite unlikely that I’ll ever be free from taking medicines.

But it’s the dream, isn’t it? To be medication free, drug free, not drug dependant; isn’t that the dream of any person tied to medication?

As a pharmacist I have to ask every person/patient I deal with if they take medications. Apparently this is the most annoying question that a person could possibly ever ask! Or maybe I’m just asking it wrong; that’s always a possibility.

When I was working, a distant memory just now, I’d get 50 people a day saying “I’m not the kind of person that takes medication”, “I’m not the type of person who takes tablets”, “I’m not some kind of druggie”! Or my personal pet favourite hate: “I don’t like taking pills”.

Really? Well who does like taking pills? And what exactly is the type of person that would take medications? I guess having to take medications to get by makes me more sensitive to these types of comments spoken from ignorant minds. It’s obvious that they’ve just never given the issue more than a seconds thought, or they’re basing it on inappropriate pill popping they’ve seen on TV.

But just a suggestion, if you ever come across me actually working as a pharmacist in the indeterminate future, please just answer no or pass me a printed list of all your meds with doses, thank you so kindly!

 Moving on.

Tricky chemistry, multiple antidepressants, additional diagnosis of bipolar on top of depression and anxiety.

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder, after the initial shock and rejection of the idea as stupid and crazy (oh the irony of calling it crazy!), was actually not that surprising, looking at it rationally. The failure of antidepressants to work or to work fully is actually an indicator of bipolar disorder, which I knew somewhere in my mind from when I studied mental illness as half of my post graduate studies. Another irony!

What if I’d had the clarity of thought to see it that way back when? To look inside my brain in a rational, systematic, logical manner. But that’s not how mental illness works. It takes a regular brain and clouds it with so much doubt, fear, hurt, pain, sadness, hopelessness etc that you just can’t see.

I’d go to my doctor and say, I was so bleak and black yesterday I nearly couldn’t stand it. And he’d say, how many Valium did you take?

Valium. Brand name of diazepam, used in my case as a sedative and anxiolytic, remover of anxiety and worry.

And every time he said it, it would be such a revelation to me: oohhhh! RIght! I should have taken a Valium! That would have made me feel better. Of course, how did I not think of that? I say every time because there were quite a few times he had to say that to me!! And I’m a pharmacist! Turns out being a good pharmacist doesn’t always extend to yourself! Luckily my husband is happy to jump in and now whenever I’m complaining of my mood he puts on his doctor voice and asks me, did you take a Valium??

I had this sanctioned stash of tablets capable of taking a stressed-to-the-eyeballs or suicidal girl and transforming her into a warm, fuzzy, calm girl ready to take a nice comfy little sleep to get her through the hours until her chemistry improved or she crawled into the doctor’s office, totally empty and out of ideas and ready for the next injection of hope, help and medication changes.

I had it. I still have it. 13 months later! I think I’m getting better at remembering how to render psychiatric first aid to myself when the complicated muddle of meds I’m on just isn’t cutting it, or the depression is just a bit too strong, or the mania is making my limbs dance a jig of agitiation. Or everything is just all too much and the circuit breaker has to be activated to prevent the whole place from burning down! Metaphorically, not literally.

 Because there are still those days. Bleak days. Blank days. Flittering days. Storm in a teacup days. Meltdown days. Frustrating days. Agitated days.

There are less of them. They come less often. They do less damage. They don’t get full control of me. But they do come. They’ll always come.

The key, as they always say, is management. So here we are, my and my team, managing. We’re managing. And that’s pretty great!

Thank you for taking the time to read my great big long shambles and hope to chat again soon x