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…

A bad day

**Usually I write in a very controlled way. I write on my good days, and although I access sadness and badness and evil, I do it in a way that I can manage easily without things getting out of control. Yesterday things were out of control. I was having a bad day and a bad moment of despair and crying into my pillow and thoughts just exploding all over the room and I thought, you know what? I need to write this down. If I can’t write down the darkness and disorganised-ness what am I really showing you of the “real” diseased me? So this is raw and I apologise if it’s too much of anything. By the time I am writing this, things have been sorted out and we’re back on track. There’s still the diet thing, I’ll get to that another day, but for now here is the thoughts as they spilled out of my head in my crying despair**

Stayingquiet

I’m the Monster. The one under your bed. The one that jumps out and scares small children and large adults alike. The obese monster, morbidly obese by the books. The one who side on, at a glance, could be confused with a large tree trunk or concrete pylon! Who has been asked TWICE this week if she’s too far into her pregnancy to fly! And another two times in that same week if she’s pregnant, once before a massage and once before a dress fitting. Cos that’s relaxing!

I’m the Destroyer. I start with memory foam beds and crush the memory and the foam out of them. I move onto brand new leather couches and triple my husband’s imprint in the first 3 months. Time to change sides! Then I grind the life out of said husband until he doesn’t care, or hurts so much from caring that he leaves. Well that’s my mental image of how this goes, in any case, and I’ve had a couple physical images to assist with the mental image; that’s the extent of his distress.

I break laptops, drop mobile phones, spill anything remotely liquid, trip over power cords ruining plug connections, slip down inclines, fall over pebbles, draw ink on bedspreads, stretch clothes in the wash,  wrench roof racks and bikes off the car roof bending the metal and stripping paint off bikes and car alike!

I’m fat, so fat, so very very fat and it’s ruining everything. I’m told. It’s hard to see from the inside. I’m ruining my marriage by being fat. I lost my job from the consequences of being fat. I’m slow, I’m too slow, I need to lose weight, I need to speed up, I need to change, change, change change, stop being me, be someone else. Someone not fat and not slow who isn’t ruining everything.

My husband is fed up. And why wouldn’t he be? 3 years of me being sick, 16months of being off work before, 9 months in a job and here we are, back at the beginning. And if I just lost weight it would fix everything. I wouldn’t be ruining the couch, wrecking the bed, sitting at home doing nothing. If only I would lose weight. Because it’s difficult for him, me being fat. Every day it’s hard for him, me being fat, he tells me. It’s hard on him. I’m fat and it’s hard. He says we can’t do things, be things because of it. It’s fair for him to ask me to lose weight, because he has to deal with it too. And me not losing weight makes him think I’m not trying, I’m not trying for us. Can’t I do it for him? Can’t I lose weight for him? If I won’t do it for myself. It’s been 6 weeks. 6 weeks since I saw the dietician and starting a food diary. And I haven’t lose any weight. Why? Because I’ve been snacking. Why? Because I eat in emotional situations. So instead I’m meant to be dealing with my emotion. Here you are, here is my emotion. I’m dealing with it.

thunder inside

I hate to cry. Crying is weak. I know, I know; I shouldn’t say that. Especially me, advocating for mental health. But to me it’s weak, I hate it, and I avoid it. But here it comes, crying, because of my diet. If I cry, I don’t store and if I don’t store, I don’t eat because of the store. Apparently. So I’ve cried twice since starting my diet.

I want to see that you’re putting in an effort. But you won’t see it; change is gradual and you don’t see weight loss for a while, a good long while. So what do you want to see? It’s such a lot of pressure, proving something. Proving you did, defending that you didn’t; proof. I’m trying. But I want to see that you’re trying. Well I am trying. Well how can I see that you’re trying? It goes round and round.

And now, one in the bed and the other one said I can’t stand this anymore. Is it cold? How cold? Who cares, I’m storming out. And I’m crying my tears because I have to put in an effort and one can’t bear it and the other can’t wear it, and it’s a mess. Royally a mess. What to a fix? I promise sincerely I will truly really do what I’m told, and I will make the numbers go down, and I will make them keep going down. And then we will live happily ever after because I’ll be able to energetically walk everywhere that I’m asked to walk, and I’ll enjoy physical activity and my fatness won’t slow me down and make me sluggish and I’ll be fixed. And if my condition and cures continue to prevent that from ever being realized? Well at least I’ll be skinny. Life is better when you’re skinny. Time for my daily walk and my diet jelly. Adieu.

Getting going

I want to talk about motivation.

Again.

Because we can never hear this message too many times. Because understanding motivation might just make you someone’s hero. And it might make people with motivation more thankful and grateful for it, and help them feel empathy for someone in defeat!

Motivation is a BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE, ENORMOUS, GIGANTIC barrier to people suffering from depression.

If you don’t have motivation, the days are more than a huge struggle, a grueling drag, a marathon race, a torture ground, long, hard, awful and just something you don’t want to have to force yourself through again, just because the stupid sun came up!

Sigh, groan, urgh, ahhh, really, why? Do I have to? I don’t think I can. How about later? I just need a bit more sleep. Maybe tomorrow, I’m just not up to it today. Nah I think it’ll wait til tomorrow.

Motivation is what gets us up in the morning. We’re motivated to get to work on time, eat a healthy breakfast, do well at our jobs, keep house, bring up nice, healthy children and because we have this motivation we do what it takes to get these things done. We don’t even think about motivation until we have to make an extra effort, like participate in a sporting event or study for exams. It just comes naturally.

But depression vacuums up every last inch of motivation, unplugs the dirt bag and buries it deep in the middle of a Mexican desert where you will NEVER, EVER find it EVER again.

It’s gone.

Done.

No more.

So instead of going about your business as you normally would, each and every tedious step takes your fullest energy and effort!

Getting up took all my effort, and was delayed to the last possible second or a bit longer. Showering exhausted me: stepping into the tub, standing up for that long, lifting my arms to wash myself. Getting dressed was a Herculean task! So many motions to go through!

Walking to the bus stop took so long since I was wading through thigh deep thick, sticky treacle, figuratively speaking. I slept as much as I could manage on that bus, the train, and the next bus. I grabbed a quick takeaway breakfast of the oily kind and tried to get to the morning handover on time. There were usually some missing minutes before the work day started.

sausage, egg, tomato

Breakfast of the oily kind!

From then on the aim was minimal physical effort, pure survival until morning tea break, until lunchtime, until afternoon tea, until home time. These breaks were my vital link to survival. I got to sit down, and eat. And just be by myself.

Then came the end of the day with the new aim of getting home ASAP and getting into bed and desperately trying to get enough rest for the next day. That never happened, I never felt rested enough the next morning. I started every day in a severe deprivation of rest. I had had exactly the amount of sleep I needed physically but the adrenaline racketting around my body made me feel continually at the limit and exhausted.

But do you know what? I believe that throughout that time I still operated at my usual level in my job. Nobody noticed that I was suffering badly. They didn’t notice that I was suffering at all. All throughout I made a lot of friends and collegues. My peer review rated well. My boss was very pleased with me. I knew I was doing a good job. I was a good pharmacist. My team was tight and I loved the group of pharmacists that I was in. I was keeping up appearances.

That’s what was showing on the outside, and am glad it was cos I loved that job and wanted to do my absolute best. And I feel that I did. Somehow.

All this despite all of this other stuff screaming and shrieking on the inside. Once or twice a week I went to my GP across the road and that was my outlet. There I could cry, sob, not be okay, hate my situation, complain, whinge, feel awful. And he was happy with that. In fact that’s what he wanted, that I could keep going elsewhere, even at home, but have at least that one outlet where there was no hiding, no pretending, no pushing on. Home was my other outlet, no pretence. Or so I thought. My husband says to this day that he had no idea of the extent of my illness. I guess keeping up appearances got to be a habit!

salad

Dinner I made in November 2013…must have gotten up some momentum! It wasn’t all bad news, and no wonder my hubby was fooled! Looking back at this photo, I’m fooled!

This, my friends, all of the above, is why when ANYONE ever suggests that I should “push through the barriers” or “make a bit of an effort” or “just try a bit harder”, my hackles rise, my respect for their understanding and knowledge bungee jumps off a cliff with no rope, and I from then on out try to avoid them as much as possible. Then. These days I try to educate them, but I give up quickly if I’m not making an progress. I don’t have the energy to waste.

Try a bit harder? Do you realise that I am constantly at the absolute limit of what I can physically, mentally, spiritually and everything else manage just to be here, out of bed, dressed, among other people, smiling and giving the general impression of being okay? No, of course you don’t. I know it may not look like it, or feel like it. In fact it probably looks the opposite, that I’m not doing very much at all. But to me, right now, I’m doing the very best that I’m capable of. So I smile harder and walk away.

Of course I’m talking mostly about the time before, during and after my diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. And the time following each of these when I started medication which was adjusted and added to and removed from and monitored. They were awful days. Not every day, and not all day, but in general they were just hard to get through! And they aren’t gone completely, but I have not had SUCH a bad day in many months now.

These days I’m doing better for motivation, still not back to my old high achieving self with good self care and standards of house keeping. But getting there. It has taken a LONG time to get back, about a year from when I first restarted antidepressants in December 2013 and has been greatly helped by starting lithium in May a year ago, which I still consider to be not only my life raft but the instrument of getting back to my old life. My life takes less thought, less meticulous planning and less energy and effort to conduct. I have reserves of energy that don’t get fully drained, and life is just more enjoyable because of that.

There are tricks and tips that I still have to use against myself. Making things non-negotiable by paying for a course because my inner coin counting self won’t accept waste. RSVPing to organised bike rides so everyone else is expecting me and will be let down if I don’t arrive. Making dates and times to meet people for lunch, coffee etc so that I have to go. Keeping going while I’m going, and doing just one more job, one more chore, tick one more thing off my to-do list before I sit down and don’t get up again.

bed, winter, ginger cat

Getting out of bed is harder. So I make my doctor’s appointment each fortnight at 10 or 11am so that I have to get up on time that day to get there on time, which is also non-negotiable because that GP saved my life more than once and I owe him my best effort. Any other appointments that I have I try to make in the morning also, for the same effect. Lately it has been easier because my miracle working psychiatrist, in one fell swoop, has erased all sedation and daytime drowsiness and sleepiness. So I actually wake up at the time that other adults wake up! Sometimes even earlier like 4 or 5am. And go back to sleep for a bit but often I’m wide awake by 8am or a bit earlier. So that greatly helps!

Showering. This is an issue. I don’t know why, but I just have such a hard time working myself up to getting in the shower! It’s gotten to the point of a serious aversion. My husband has to get the water running (no mean feat with our current plumbing) and frog march me in. Once I’m there its fine, not a problem at all. It’s the getting started that’s the problem. Which, in it’s essence, is what motivation is. The drive and momentum to getting things started. So there’s still a ways to go, but I have come a ways which is comforting.

Launching Place, rail trail, sign

Launching Place: sounds like a good place to start!