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.

 

Advertisements

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.

Bike learning

Last Wednesday I drove out to the Yarra Ranges for a bike ride with Wheel Women.

image

You remember Wheel Women? They are the awesome group of women who have teamed up with Cycling Australia to run the empowering She Rides programs for women around Melbourne.

I’ve finished the course and now I’m in that tricky phase after completing any kind of training or education; implementing the knowledge and making changes in my life. But with the great Wheel Women She Rides version it isn’t really a difficulty at all! Each and every week there are several rides posted by Wheel Women for us graduates and other female riders (and occasionally males), and the majority of them suit the level I am at now.

image

Not the level I want to get to, or that my husband or friends are at, or that I have been told or feel that I should be at; just the level that I am at. Which is very encouraging to keep on keeping on with regular bike riding.

There are a variety of rides from different starting points with different groups. I participated in the first ever Hawthorn She Rides program, but there have also been programs in Docklands and Knox and Geelong, and I think one in Bayside…don’t quote me on that one. I know the Hawthorn girls pretty well after eight weeks of classes and practice rides and coffees and tech nights together. So I’m always happy to go riding with them. But I’ve also been on a Docklands ride and a Knox ride and one of the all-in rides out at Warburton. And so far I haven’t found a single lady/girl/woman/chick that wasn’t lovely and helpful and kind and considerate. Also encouraging!

image

Take the Warburton ride last Saturday. The large majority of the riders started at Lilydale for a 70km round trip to Warburton for lunch and back. In the classes and in my first ride after with the Docklands group (group being an optimistic term as there were two of us plus the instructor!) I’d only done up to 20km; not sure that we’d actually hit twenty. We’d done a 2km round trip to practice starting and stopping and turning, and about the same to practice signalling.

image

I’d been terrified of doing really any riding at all before the class because I was, and still am a bit, scared of the effort involved in riding up hills, and that I couldn’t do the distance, being so much less fit than when I last rode. The only ride I’d done in the last two years was an excruciating 5km on the Eastern Freeway trail with my hubby. I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t fit, there were hills and it was just a struggle! It hurt and I wanted to get off and not get back on.

But those first two rides were fine. Then we did a 6km ride into Richmond to the Total Rush store to learn how to fix a flat tyre including taking the wheels off and putting them back on, adjusting the chain and derailleur, taking out the tube and patching or replacing it and putting it back in. That was a great and very empowering session!

image

The ride was pretty good but I got too hot going into town from Hawthorn. I always get hot, it’s just a fact of life now that I’m on the antidepressant venlafaxine. I overheat, I sweat, I wipe off the sweat and repeat! I’m so excited for winter! Well outdoors winter, not indoors winter…heaters are the bane of my life!

Anyway, I got hot and that reduces my tolerance for pushing myself. I get exasperated and just want to do anything to get cooler. It’s such an unpleasant feeling, and I hate that people can see all the sweat on my face, and its still my number one side effect to get rid of on my dreamboat wishlist. I’d followed the clothing choices of everyone else with lots of layers including gloves and neck warmer. But I’ve learnt since that in most situations I’m better off in Tshirt and pants. I get hot riding but the breeze goes through my shirt to keep me cool and I’m happy; it works. I take extra just in case, but don’t put it on until I need it.

image

Anyway, the ride from Hawthorn to Richmond is a pretty flat ride with a couple of little rises but we’d only learnt gears the week before and I’d had a chest infection and hadn’t practiced. Of course I’d used gears before this course, but not correctly it turns out. Gears makes so much difference when you know how to use them! So being hot and exasperated and still coughing from my chest infection I ditched the 6km ride home and caught the train instead. With a flat phone and scant knowledge of the Glen Waverley train line I somehow got off at the right station and found my way by bike the 2km back to the car. I wasn’t that far behind the others.

But the idea that I couldn’t keep up, and riding was hard had received a boost!

image

Luckily the next week we tackled a 14km ride to Herring Island and back that I found easy! From can’t do more than 6km to easy 14km! I don’t know how or why but it happened!

I was worried beforehand, but I ended up chatting to another girl all the way in (the distraction really works!) and at the end I felt like I could have ridden further; I had effort still in the tank waiting to be used! That was a nice feeling.

And for the very first time in years, I felt that exhilaration, euphoria, sense of everything being well and life being exciting that they tell you comes from endorphins! Which was a real revelation! 18 months after my diagnosis of depression/bipolar I finally felt that benefit of exercise that everyone’s been yackedy yacking about! I can see now why they say exercise is good for your mood…but I just couldn’t get anything like that with walking. It was sometimes pleasant but not euphoric. Going to the gym sometimes gave me a taste. Playing squash had gotten me part of the way, but my fitness can’t manage that now. But bike riding really nailed it!

After that ride we rode a longer distance into Fed Square which I managed well, then my Docklands crew ride was 16km, dead flat and along the beach on a glorious day! Perfect!

image

So the Warburton ride. I’d made up my mind that I would tackle the 35km loop on the trail from Woori Yallock to Warburton and return. I could have chosen the 20km loop from Launching Place but I wanted to see how I went extending myself. I was reallly enjoying my riding by now, and had proved myself to myself a bit, and was aptly a fitting graduate from the She Rides Confidence program!

image

I’d wanted to ride the Warburton to Lilydale rail trail for YEARS but never felt fit enough. And herein lies the beauty of the Wheel Women community. A ride that my husband would do, but which wouldn’t really be as valuable to him as his 100km+ weekend road loop. He would enjoy exploring and the scenery, but I’d feel a bit babysat. I don’t have any other friends who ride right now. And going out there by myself is something I’d never think of! But here is a ready made group of women who also want to ride the trail, don’t have anyone to ride with and we all turn up and do it together! Brilliant!

We were told beforehand what speed range we should be able to hold to keep up with the group. I knew that I could maintain that speed based on previous rides, however I failed to consider the difference between riding on asphalt/concrete and fine gravel; the latter is quite a bit slower! But the leaders put me at the front of the group so that my speed would dictate the speed of the group and I wouldn’t get dropped (a cycling term for being less fit/skilled/able than other riders and getting spat out of the back of the group as they gradually pass you by virtue of their better skills/fitness/abilities!). This still happened to me, twice! But I was never left behind.

image

The combination of a slight incline, gravel, starting with no warm up, the group being warmed up and ticking along at a good pace meant the first few kilometres were a struggle! I was maintaining a speed about 4km/hr slower than intended but the first time I was dropped I caught up with the group at a road crossing. I got put at the front but still got inevitably passed one by one as the incline and my quads fought each other! That time I stayed behind for a few kilometres with a very patient partner-of-a-coach tagging me all the way.

image

That’s what I love about Wheel Women; they leave no man behind…or whatever the modern expression is. You are noticed, you are part of the group, you are looked out for, you are helped and supported along the way, and if things go bad thay’ve got your back. Although we’ve been taught how to fix our own mechanical issues its nice to know you’re riding with experienced women who can back you up with technical assitance and spare parts.

Speaking of mechanical issues. I went back out to tackle the Warburton trail on Wednesday with the Knox group, also lovely ladies. I rode two easy kilometres to where I was meeting them for the Launching Place 20km loop. My mum and grandma were driving out to meet us for lunch. And lucky they were! As I was waiting I heard the unmistakeable gush of air passing out of the tube valve, and my back tyre went dead flat! Not good, but the group were coming and they could help. Here was a steep learning curve that I needed and won’t forget. The group leader: Where’s your spare tube? Don’t have one. Okay I’ll see if mine fits, no it doesn’t. That’s okay we’ll patch it, where are your patches? Don’t have any. Okay I’ll use mine, start taking off the tyre, where are your tyre levers? Don’t have any…spoken very quietly!

image

Oh dear!

And the reason I didn’t have them? So silly! The week before I went in to Total Rush to get all the bits and pieces, but I forgot the $100 Specialized voucher that comes with Wheel Women membership. So I postponed buying until the next week when I would be passing by for my GP appointment. Sadly this ride came the day before that appointment! Missed it by that much!

image

Suffice to say I now have all of the above and more! Because the outcome of the day was no one had the right sized tube to lend me, the patch didn’t hold and the valve got damaged and wouldn’t hold any air. The one bike shop didn’t stock my tube size, so they day ended with an emergency pick up from the family, lunch, and a drive home! Very disappointing but I won’t repeat it! 2km total on a lovely mild day with fair weather all round! Dulp!
image

But stay tuned for photos of me doing all the mechanical work with my two bare hands while my hubby commentates from the sidelines. You haven’t seen the last of me!

*Much of the photo credit must go to Tina, possessor of the genius behind all that is Wheel Women. Your talent at taking photos while riding knows no bounds! Thanks for documenting my progress in pictures 🙂

Success

It’s been a big week. I’ve been at opposite ends of the emotional scale and I’m a bit frazzled. A bit frayed, a bit stretched too far, a bit edgy and nervous. But I’m here, I’m overall doing okay so we press on. And let’s bear a thought for the people that have been there with me. Who’ve felt for me, who I’ve felt for; they’ve been all over the place and back again, some much more than me.

I’ve been higher than I’ve been for a long time. And not a high-due-to-mania high but a regular this-is-how-normal-people-react-to-good-things way, which is the awesome part! I had something good happen and I reacted and behaved just like a normal people-person. In a something-good-has-happened-to-me way, and in an I-want-to-jump-up-and-down-about-it way. Not with depression, not with mania, not with anxiety. Well not much anxiety anyway. Gotta have a little; its a big deal

So what happened? I got the job! I GOT THE JOB! I GOT THE JOB!!!!!! I GOT THE PERFECT JOB!!!!!!!!!!

The job that is 4 minutes walk from my house. The job that is part time; two days one week and three days the next. The job that is everything I’ve done before in my career. The job that has lovely people who are already very supportive and willing to give me a go. Cos it is a big deal for them to take me on. I haven’t worked full time since March 3, 2014 and I haven’t worked part time since October 14, 2014. They don’t know how I’ll go getting back to work but they’re prepared to take the chance which is just amazing.

I can’t tell you how much my confidence has increased in the last couple of weeks from rewriting my resume and looking at what I’ve accomplished so far; going to an interview and establishing a rapport with the interviewers, being able to sell my strengths and nailing the clinical question despite so long away from the hospital wards; hearing back that I was the best applicant and that I’ve been offered the job.

I lost so much confidence, trust and faith in myself after I went off work sick. Sitting at home not exercising my brain, not using any of my knowledge and skills, not able to keep up my practice was brutal on my self worth and identity. And has been brutal over a long time, to the point where I sometimes felt that I would never practice as a pharmacist again. I’d never proved that I could retain knowledge and skills over a period of non use.

But now I have, and it’s been an enormous relief to me! I’ve still got it! I can still do it. I’m not useless, I can go out and make a difference and earn a wage and contribute something to the universe. Pheeewwww!!

And then there was the darkness. A dear special friend in very real danger reached out to me. I was honoured they came to me. But the task given to me to save the day was a very difficult one and I experienced such fear and worry and helplessness. Nothing compared to what they felt, but still real to me. It made me return to some of my difficult days and use the pain and suffering I remembered and try to give the antidotes that I’d found. But ultimately the day was saved, by a combined effort of concerned family and friends. The success which gave me a whole other sense of relief and alleviated fear and even achievement.

Which got me thinking about success. Again. I’ve been thinking about it on and off for a while now. What is success? How to we measure success? How do we know when we have achieved success?

In my job interview I was asked a question that caused me to be a bit flummoxed. At the end of your work day, how do you measure success? What needs to happen in the day for you to feel that you have been successful at your job?

In every other job that I’ve had the number of patients seen in the day has mostly been the measure of success. You have this many patients and you need to provide this level of pharmaceutical care to each of them. Not meeting this demand was a stressful event!

But an unexpected thing happened. My new boss has a much different and very refreshing philosophy. Accepting that there is insufficient funding to provide the ideal pharmacy service that we all dream of, management have taken the view that seeing every one of your allocated patients probably isn’t possible.

So instead they want pharmacists to find satisfaction in the good work that they do for each patient that they see. They want pharmacists to do there best work for patients one by one instead of rushing yourself to show on paper that you’ve seen each patient, when in fact you’ve probably skimmed each one. By prioritising patients and doing your best work for each patient that you can see in the day, management hope that there is higher job satisfaction. And I believe that there will be! Which is a success.

That’s success on the high side. Me, back in a job, helping patients and providing a clinical service. Or anyone doing that, really. It’s not all about me. Holding a job, earning a wage, paying a mortgage, being financially independent, completing study and I’m sure you can think of more. Being a friend, achieving personal goals.

Success on the low side is totally different. It’s not about ideals and doing your best work and demands and expectations. It’s about survival. Surviving the night, the day, the hour, the next five minutes. It’s about accepting whatever help is necessary to get by, taking whoever’s hand you are able to grasp to pull you back up, using the little strength and will you have to just hold on. It’s a whole different picture and the contrast to success on the high side is enormous.

So whatever your success is, well done! You worked hard for it and you deserve to be acknowledged for all that work and for the courage that it took to start and finish that work. Whether it was getting a promotion or putting down the poison or making great strides in your fitness or deciding to keep on going. You have done a great job and I’m proud of you!

To my dear who kept living, my darl who keeps facing it alone, and each one of you who has had success in any part of your life: you are amazing and an inspiration to me every day!

And it stings like…

“A little twist of the knife, yeah. A little salt in the cut, yeah. A little thorn in the side and it stings like hell”

– The Veronicas, ‘Cruel’ lyrics.

Lazy. Not listening. Not trying to help yourself. Making yourself sick. Not doing what you can to get better. Doing things to make yourself sicker. If you really wanted to get better you would… .

Exaggerating. Everyone’s getting sick of this. Everyone else has problems too. You think just because you have a problem that it means you’re worse off than anybody else. I have problems too.

When I read this out loud or run it through my mind, it sounds like the negative self-talk that I had way back a year or more ago when I was really depressed. But I thought I worked though that? Didn’t I spend all that time in therapy with my psychologist specifically addressing this type of self-talk, bit by bit by tiny itty bitty little bit? I think differently now, for the most part. I try, in any case. And when a bit of negativity comes up, I think I have the skills now to recognize it, to dissemble it, remove its effect on my mood and thoughts and carry on regardless. For the most part; I’m not impervious!

What is it then, this string of insulting, hurtful words? It does sound quite a bit like one of the soundtracks a person with schizophrenia might be subjected to listening to. But I don’t have schizophrenia. I’m very sure of this. The number of mental health reviews and tests and interviews I’ve been through have shown up a string of illnesses, but psychosis has never come into the mix. I’ve never had voices as such, delusions or hallucinations as such, or this kind of audible insulting persona living in my brain.

What then? It must be an actual voice coming from an actual human. You wouldn’t think this would be a way a person would speak to me, to anyone, even if they did think it in their mind. Not like this. The words are awful things thrown with an angry, reactive tone. Who would know enough about me to think they were able to say such things with such venom?

Not my dear one, my husband. He watches the struggle daily and knows what effort I put in. It wears thin but he never throws blame. What an angel.

Not my friends, not one of my precious friends could say these things. They support, and support, and support. They are lovely, kind, genuine, helping, caring.

And there, aha. It sheds the light on who it is, who it can only be. And a shard pierces the heart, again. Again. I hoped.
I thought in my hoping that things would change for the better; that knowledge and understanding would temper such words. I looked for empathy, love, kindness. Not too much to hope for?
Disappointed again.
Sorry again to find that expected allies are enemies still, slashing and stabbing and wounding and delaying the healing and brutalizing the hope.

Well fooled me. Fooled in hope, in desire, in wanting, in needing something different. Fooled again. More fool me. Well, fool no more. Hope no more.

I see the scene, and I see that change cannot be brought by me. Nor by my dear one. Nor by my friends. I tried, it isn’t for want of trying. But I failed, and can’t stand to fail over again.

I don’t know where the change may be able to come from, or by who, or if it even can come.

But I turn my eyes away, I do not look for it anymore.
It is finished, for me. I have my love, my friends, my allies some. They are enough for me. I am enough for me. We will be enough.

Hindsight

Everything seems obvious in hindsight; we often remark on this theme:

If only I’d known that beforehand…

Well it all seems clear in hindsight…

With hindsight I would have…

But that isn’t how the world works.

We do not have a crystal ball with magical views of life and what is to come. We don’t have a written score or script to tell us what the path will be and when each event will occur.

We have the blessing of life, and breath, and relative health and wealth, and a brain and body and have at it! Go to and create out of what you have, what you will.

Some people argue, probably very rightly, that if we could see the path that our life would be, we wouldn’t be anymore equipped to face it, and the unknown bad moments ahead would ruin our happiness right from the start rather than at the time.

Imagine how it would be if you knew before you were born or in your early life which of all of your loved ones would leave you in death or in circumstances. Would you draw away from them to protect yourself? Would you cling to them to try to make the most of every moment? Either way, and I’m betting there are many other ways that people would respond too, it would make life unnatural I think.

It’s a moot point of course since it’s an impossibility that we could ever have that knowledge, or any other similar knowledge of the types of experiences that face us in our life.

I believe that God is in Heaven and has set us on earth for his pleasure. I believe that Jesus came from Heaven to earth to live as we do with all our limitations, temptations and experiences. I believe that He himself was tempted in every possible way that a human could be tempted and still never sinned so that He could buy salvation and eternal life for us by his sacrifice. I believe that God has planned every teeny tiny step of my life, of your life, of every life. And I believe that if we ask, and it’s right for us to know, that God can give us a glimpse of some past, some future, some present obscured moment to help us better understand and cope with our life as we live it.

Not our whole life’s map or pathway or span. Just a glimpse to help us on to the next step. In eternity I think we will see why everything happened as it happened for God’s good reasons.

You may believe the same. You may believe differently. You may not have a belief about a greater being. That’s up to you.

What I’ve been thinking about today is hindsight.

Imagine if, say, eighteen months ago I had been able to look into my crystal ball and see my future.

At that time, I had been suffering fairly severe abdominal distress for four months or so with frequent, sudden, violent and painful bowel motions each day, terrible wind and muscle spasms on and off. I’d had tests done for bowel cancer, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis and a bunch of other bowel and inflammatory conditions.

I’d had to give bowel movement samples and urine samples and have my blood taken. I was stressed to the max over all of these potential diseases, besides being embarrassed and inconvenienced by uncontrollable bowel movements, appalled at having to take poo samples, and absolutely shamed at having to hand these over to my doctor! My work was affected because I’d have to dash off to the loo in the middle of something and come back fifteen to thirty minutes later exhausted and horrified once more. My home life was affected by me having this uncontrollable loud angry painful stenchy monster inside of me that wouldn’t be calmed down even at crucial moments.

I was feeling pretty crappy about the whole situation!

I was given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome, a fructose elimination diet and a reassurance that I could return to the tummy specialist at any time in the next twelve months. So hindsight.

What if, at that point in time, someone had said to me, Danika, have you heard that irritable bowel syndrome is usually diagnosed when people have some kind of stress in their life that’s gone on for a while? Tell me about the things going on in your life that stress you out. What things are putting pressure on you at the moment? Is there a chance that you have been undergoing stress for some weeks or months? Tell me what we can do to manage or alleviate your stress.

If they had then reassured me that none of the diseases I’d been tested for were going to happen, had assured me of the success of the fructose elimination diet and how my symptoms would all go away, and referred me to have a chat with someone sympathetic and capable of helping me with my stress, maybe my path would have changed.

Then again maybe not; who knows?

If at that point in time they had said to me, Danika, here is your pathway for the next eighteen months: your bowels will improve on the new diet, but your immune system is compromised from stress so you’ll be more susceptible to minor but irritating afflictions like colds and yeast infections. You will be diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and truly stress about EVERYTHING; the medications don’t work that well and the one that works best you’ll have to stop because of bleeding. While you’re off medication you’ll get sick again and you’ll be diagnosed with depression; the new medications won’t work that well and you will eventually have a nervous breakdown before finally they find out you have bipolar disorder. This diagnosis will change your life because you’ll start new treatments and they’ll work marvelously and you will get well for the first time in eighteen months!

What would my reaction have been? I’m guessing it would have been, and certainly was along the way, oh no that’s terrible, I can’t possibly have or go through that! Or would I have been far sighted enough to look through the pain to the end and decide to go with the pathway shown? Probably not, we humans with myself as the main example are pretty jolly keen to avoid pain of ANY kind!

Would I say, wait, I can’t let that happen, and take leave from work straight away to recuperate and sort out my life, removing all the major stressors (which I did six months later but maybe too late)? Would that knowledge followed by these actions have stopped me from continuing along the pathway? Would I have only got to halfway down and no further? Would anything have kept me from reaching the endpoint I got to?

What if they’d only told me part of it: you will change your whole lifestyle and method of cooking to eliminate fructose and will completely overcome your bowel issues; however not having your bowels to stress over will shift your conscious awareness of stress to the actual source: working with high workloads, no extra workforce in sight and in a group of similarly stressed colleagues that are piling additional stress onto each other. You will stress over your work ad nauseum and to the nth degree and it will severely affect your sleep, your motivation, your energy levels and your commitment to your job and profession and your general joy for life.

What would I have done then? Would I have looked more closely at my work situation and realised months earlier than in real life that I was putting way too much energy and thought and adrenaline into a dead-end? Would I have realised way sooner that the situation was never going to change and was only going to become more and more toxic as I advanced to a more and more senior role and shouldered more and more of the responsibility? Would I have cut my emotional and sentimental ties months before I did, and saved myself anguish and conflict? Would I have found it much easier then to walk away before the chaos descended? What if…?

What if they’d told me this much? You will seek help for this stress through the employee assistance program with a delightful lady who will be your mother and guide for the next six months. Then neutropenia and recurrent infections will send you to the doctor who will ask how do you do? causing you to melt down into a panic attack and this will start the diagnostic pathway to generalised anxiety disorder. You will learn many methods of controlling displays of anxiety but you still aren’t conscious of the severe degree to which your work is affecting you. This will come and you will start accepting that you need to leave this septic workplace and find work elsewhere. You will do your best to handle all of these things together with a friend your own age dying suddenly bringing death right into the room, your mother’s diagnosis of breast cancer with subsequent surgery, chemotherapy (in a naturopathic, homeopathic, everything alternopathic system!), your major supports in the workplace also having to leave for their health’s sake and whatever else this bully of a life has to throw into the mix!

Surely by now you would do the bleeding obvious: quit your job, look for a new one, cut ties and uproot yourself and do an anti seachange! Which you did, at this time. So would knowing earlier really change things? Would anything have made you move and change sooner? I just don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows. There are so many combinations and permutations of thoughts and actions and decisions and autopilot and words and instincts. Can the past ever by viewed from the present, and a different path traced? Can we ever say for certain what would have changed the outcome? I don’t believe that we can.

What I can do is suggest; I can infer; I can consider it very likely. But fortunately or unfortunately there is no going back and changing the path we took. It’s done; it’s fixed.

Regrets? It takes some consideration but actually, I don’t think so.

I wouldn’t have wished myself a nervous breakdown. I didn’t enjoy all of the stress that was actually placed or that I mentally thought was placed on my metaphorical shoulders. I never ever want to be within 10 miles of suicidal ever again if possible be ANY means!

But, the slippery slope that I skidded down and down and down led me to make decisions I would never have made otherwise, to seek out opportunities and advancements and personal development that I wouldn’t have thought necessary in different circumstances, and to change my thinking, my behaviour and my take on life to (hopefully) come out at the end with a splash into a new and improved life!

It might seem strange but there is so much that I wouldn’t have today if it weren’t for this pathway that I may or may not have gone down if I’d been a different person or acted differently in the past.

All for the best? In hindsight, yes I think it was 🙂

Saturday Shoutout

I have hedged around this and hinted at in and mentioned it obliquely but it’s time for some straight speaking about an important part of my life.

My peeps.

Specifically, my psychologist, my psychiatrist and my GP.

My support crew.

Without them, I don’t know where I would be. Literally and figuratively. Would I be in a psychiatry ward in a hospital? Would I be in rehab? Would I be doing a lot worse than am I now? Would I be a vegetable in bed? They have stood by me, held me up, dealt with me, kick-started me, bucked me up and saved my life.

I don’t say this lightly.

They saved my life! They’re that important.

Everything I say here has what to me is an obvious unwritten addendum: as well as my husband. He is the most important person in my life and has been my most supportive friend through every hill and valley, through every new discovery and every boring pushing-on day, through every heartache and excitement. He is so critical in my life but there are times in life when you need to call in the experts!

And these times have been the last year!

My aim today is to give a shout out to my current team because I truly do owe my life to these people. There are other people who have also been hugely helpful to me and I acknowledge them mentally; they might get a write up another day.

Starting with my local doctor, my general practitioner or GP, Dr Richard Young.

I came to see him accidentally after a false start with the GP that I used to see back when I was at uni. She charged a fortune and didn’t give me any confidence that she knew what she was doing. In fact she said to me, I’ll ask my colleagues and check some textbooks; can you come back next week? Well no I couldn’t wait a week, I needed help now! I complained to a colleague at work that I didn’t know where to start looking for a good GP and that I wanted to find one close to work.and who didn’t cost me so much and she handed me a business card for this doctor. I rate this as the best recommendation I have ever had and am always so thankful to her for this!

I didn’t tell this colleague why I needed to see a doctor and yet she gave me a recommendation for a doctor with a special interest in mental health, and who sees many patients with depression and anxiety. That was lucky number one. Lucky number two was the location of the clinic, within a 5 minute walk from work! Could anything be more perfect? I could easily slip away from work in my lunch break, between discharges, after ward rounds etc for my 15 minute appointment. And lucky amazing number three is bulk billing for mental health patients! That is, no fee to pay for each visit! Thank you infinity for this amazing policy that has benefited me and my husband so much!

Richard is a young enough doctor to have passion for his job in spades, old enough to have experience and knowledge and confidence, and has bedside manner and compassion like you dream of in a doctor!

His knowledge of the health system is unsurpassed. I have attended many different GPs in my old clinic last year as well as here, and have never experienced such thorough care! I have cervical migraines; I get Medicare subsidised visits to a physiotherapist. I’m gaining weight on medication; I get some of those visits changed to see a dietician. I have deficiencies; I get treated. I have risk factors; I see the practice nurse to develop a care plan for how I will reduce my risk factors. I have depression/anxiety and need help managing my symptoms; I get ten Medicare subsidised visits to a psychologist, and when I use them all up, I get more! We need help managing the medications; I get Medicare subsidised visits to the psychiatrist. And most importantly, when I’m suicidal he doesn’t let me go home; he sends me straight to the hospital where I can be cared for and a new plan can be made for my treatment.

You get the picture: this doctor is amazing! There is nothing I have that he can’t fix me up with the appropriate health professional or service!

After 8 months of seeing Richard once a week every week I have no complaints! I have had to wait on occasion, I have had to be rushed through on occasion but I have proved abundantly that when I have acute and severe needs, I will be given as much time and attention as I need and be cared for exactly how I need. How I want not always; but always how I need. I think you do need to give credit where it is due and understand the limitations of the medical system and within those limits I have been wonderfully and carefully looked after!

I would absolutely recommend Richard to anyone!

It is due to Richard’s amazing insight and care that I was first given a referral to see a psychologist. Unfortunately the first lady I saw did not connect with me at all, and in fact I left worse than I arrived!! Crying going down the steps is not the right way to go. So Richard promptly organised for me to be assigned another psychologist and I have loved her since the first meeting!

Patty Sabbagh from the Nexus Psychology group is her name and place.

She has seen me through all kinds of scenarios. Happy, sad, suicidal, excited about life, demotivated, purposeful and everything in between are the ways that I have turned up at her door and she has adapted and given me real help and hope and a new way on from every problem! She has helped me to deal with all kinds of issues, she is so resourceful and like a good friend. Sometimes I have gone and its just been a good chat with an understanding fellow human that I needed, and she has been a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and a clever therapist able to give me a better way to fight on. A mother, a friend, a support; all labels I could give her and more!

She listens and considers and recommends the best approach. Sometimes talking about it really does solve the problem, sometimes a new way of looking or thinking about an issue is needed, sometimes there is need for meditation, or mindfulness, or cognitive behavioural therapy. Whatever is needed, this talented psychologist and counselor has the remedy!

Anyone in trouble needing someone to help would be well advised to seek the help of Patty from Nexus Psychology or one of her colleagues.

Lastly my newest support crew member, and one who has changed my life. Another big statement but well deserved! My psychiatrist, Dr Ian Katz.

He entered later in the picture because I initially saw a psychiatrist as part of my outpatient follow up from being in the emergency department of the local hospital. He was the one who suggested cautiously that bipolar was indeed a possibility and who first started me on a mood stabiliser. However his role is to see patients in the short term then send them back to their GP to be managed. Which is what happened.

My GP and I went along with the plan for Seroquel and for a while we seemed to be winning. Then that started to fall apart and my GP gave me the referral for Dr Katz. He picked up the pieces, made a sensible picture out of it all and gave me a ‘wait and watch’ directive and asked me to come back in a few weeks. I returned with a history of the most manic-like state that had happened to me so far coupled with a long period of depression and the diagnosis of bipolar was complete. He prescribed lithium, one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time, and things have been improving ever since! He calls it “the game changer”; I call it a life changer!!

I have been so impressed with Dr Katz because of his huge capacity to listen, and hear all the information then process it in a logical and helpful manner. He will then set out a considered, clinically sound plan and make everything clear and easy for me, the patient. That takes a huge lot of knowledge, skill, patience, kindness and clinical experience to attain and I think there are very few other clinicians like him. In addition, his commitment to his work amazes me. I have had appointments at 6.45pm, 8pm and 9pm!! Thank you for that!

I have a very high respect for his opinion and his directions and am just so grateful to him for being the one to really turn my life around!

So there you have it. The three most important people in my life just now, besides my husband. Three people who have left a permanent impression on my mind, and my heart really. Conditions like bipolar absolutely need to have this three pronged approach, which in the past was not such a priority but I would not give up either one of these three for anything! Each has a separate but vital role, and each one contributes in a different way to my overall mental and physical health.

I don’t think I could step into any of their shoes, even assuming I had the appropriate training. They each have some strength of character to do what they do that is beyond my understanding but its so important to me that they continue to do what they do.

I don’t know when they take holidays, I don’t know how their families cope with their dedication to their jobs but I know that without them I wouldn’t know where to go or who to turn to and I am forever grateful to them, and everyone like them who works for us, the patients.