Birdlife outings

This is a quick tour through what Birdlife Australia Melbourne branch outings look like to me. I love that there are organised bird watching outings, just like I love my Wheel Women outings; because it’s just harder on your own. You don’t know what locations to go to, where to find the best birds when you get there, and you just don’t have the local knowledge of what birds are around and where they might be. But Birdlife just isn’t the family that Wheel Women is. I know a few people to say hello to and have a chat with as we walk around together for a few hours. But I don’t really have a relationship with any of them outside of our bird watching outings. Still, its a very friendly, helpful group of people who are just dead keen of improving other’s skills at finding birds, helping us to learn their behaviour and hopefully finding new and different birds every outing. This is my photo journal of everything but the birds  (almost) from an outing to Woodlands Historic Park on 27th May 2017.

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First off, the car park meet up – yep they’re all ours

 

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Getting the briefing for how the day is going to run, what to look out for, who is leading and who is tailing, and the famous sign up sheet

 

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Hold up on the bridge as someone spots something…what, what, what have you got?? we call from the rear

 

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It’s REALLY time that I got binoculars! The camera does pretty well, but I think binoculars would adjust quicker and let more light in

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A bit more scattered along the track as we wander back for lunch

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Bring on lunch!!! It’s almost a stampede once 12.30 hits the second hand!!

 

And here is a quick snapshot of some of the birds that we saw. It wasn’t a tremendous day out, although that last bird was a first for me, the Fan-tailed Cuckoo. We got to see some beautiful Flame (above) and Scarlet Robins but at a long distance so there’s not a lot to show for it. Better photos next time!

Anything!

Lately I’ve forgotten how much nicer it is to spend my day doing something, rather than nothing!

When I’m down, flat, depressed, I just can’t think of what to do. No ideas come to me, I think and think and it goes nowhere. I wake up in a fog, get up only when I can’t force myself to sleep any longer and lying there gets unbearable, and spend the rest of the day using as little energy as possible!

This is reflected in all the things that I don’t do. I don’t put the used knife at the sink or in the dishwasher; it stays on the bench with the butter and the spreads that should be put away in the cupboard. The bird bath gets filled up with rain or nothing, and the seed feeder empties and then sits empty: the very worst kind of bird feeding there is that; supply then cease. The dirty clothes can’t make it to the washing machine, I drive instead of public transport or walking. The ironing sits, and sits, and sits until my poor over-worked husband gets fed up and does it, while I watch in shame and guilt and secret gladness that it’s done, at least for today, until it piles up again. I do so miss my ironing lady!

I have lists of things to do, but doing them is more painful than transferring them to tomorrow’s to-do list. It’s been a few weeks of this kind of la-la nothing-ness, and it’s been getting tedious.

So I decided to muster my strength and drive myself the 10 minutes up to Doncaster Shopping Centre to go to a couple of stores. Did I remember that it was the school holidays? No, unfortunately! But never mind. Turns out, neither of the two stores that I went to visit exist there anymore!! This is such a typical palm to forehead moment from me that it has become laughable to my husband and I. A phone call to tell him such a story gives him a great big laugh and helps me feel a bit less stupid and wasteful of my limited resources.

Then he said this helpful thing. Oh well, since you’re there, take the chance to look around at any other clothing you need/want?

Usually I’d be straight back to my car and home to safety, but for some reason this time I thought why not? I looked up one of the stores I had come for, and it turned out that their brand was stocked in a couple of places although their name brand store didn’t exist anymore, so I went off looking for those stores and 3 hours later I emerged having had a pretty good day! I’d bought a pair of boots that I really liked and had been thinking about looking for/buying for a while; actually quite a long while! It all happened kind of painlessly. I’d even talked the staff into giving me 50% off instead of 30% because of a miniscule defect! Quite proud of that one. Bought a couple of fat tops, but not in the fat section; in the young cool people’s section. I’d chatted to service staff, talked to a couple of shoppers spontaneously and tried on every shoe I vaguely liked. I’d even photographed some shoes I’ll think about if I get a job or at sale time, like I’d ever remember that I’d taken the photos or where they were from! Another palm to face moment: I was meant to go to one department store to find the brand that I was after, and I spent all afternoon in the other one!! No wonder I couldn’t find what I was after! Oh dear! Again!!

So there it is, just by getting myself out of the house and being willing to/having the energy to push a bit further out of my comfort zone by staying out, several good things happened and I felt like I’d lived a day in the life of a normal person, shopping the sales in the school holidays.

That was the 7th of July, 2016.

Now, on the 27th July I’m in a totally different zone! A happy, energetic, functional, even efficiently effective zone! It’s so good! I truly literally have not felt this good since I got sick. Let’s rephrase and say that I’m feeling the best that I can remember since early 2013!!

It sort of makes me mourn all of the time that has gone by in the last 3 years – wasted hours and days and months, but they can’t be recovered so I just have to put them in the past, and put my attention to the excellent present that is making me feel good.

This is a solid proof, once and for all, that justifies me for defending myself over these years: my disease bipolar is all about the chemicals. When the chemicals are balanced, this is what I can be like, my best self.

When the chemicals aren’t right, I can bust my gut to be better, and exhaust myself in the endeavor, and get nowhere. But finally, all the hard work, all the psychiatrist’s appointments, all the tablets, all the heartache, all the problems and difficulties are just faded away and I’m well! My husband is so relieved. I think we had just about resigned ourselves to the fact of our lives just being sucked into the vortex of this evil disease. But now we know. We finally know that it doesn’t have to be that way. It can be better, to the point of almost normal. And I’ll take almost normal any day!

Of course the story isn’t over. This isn’t the end. This is a good cycle, but it’s still a cycle. That’s how bipolar works, one cycle followed by another; good following bad, and so on. Our aim is to cycle less often and less severely. Proving that I can get to a good cycle is just such great news, a huge relief and gives hope for the future. The medicines do their part, my psychiatrist and GP do theirs, all of your support does its part too and I do mine, and sometimes we hit the jack pot! Let’s celebrate it while it lasts, and know that when we go down again we’ll have more hope for coming back up!

 

 

Wired

Today I spent four hours without looking at my phone.

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

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

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

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

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

What do I check on my smartphone?

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

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

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

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

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

A lot of stuff!

Any of it vital?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recovery

 

“You will get there when you are meant to get there and not one moment sooner. So relax, breathe, and be patient.” -unknown

 

Last Wednesday was an interesting day for me.

Another new start, another new pursuit, another new hobby, another new lifestyle angle.

I began a new journey, a new pathway towards I don’t know what exactly. I participated in my very first formal mindfulness class.

When I was in my first year of university and had my first panic attack, I went to see the campus counsellor. She was a really sweet lady and helped me through some difficulties, frustrations, emotional strain and odds and ends in our one-on-one sessions. She also got me involved in a lunchtime class where we tried meditation and mindfulness as stress reduction methods.

I don’t have a very clear memory of that time; I had a lot going on I guess. But I do remember one mindfulness exercise that we did with a mandarin and I’ve gone back to that a few times over the years since then.

This year and last year while I’ve been seeing a psychologist pretty frequently the idea of mindfulness has come up briefly a few times and the last time I was able to borrow a mindfulness CD from my counsellor by well known Dr Craig Hassad, lecturer at Monash University. That was a good reminder of what mindfulness is and how it can be used.

So now I’m doing this class for two and a half hours every Wednesday for eight weeks. So far, I’m very happy. The lovely group leader is a practical, kind lady who has made me feel very at home and the other members of the group all seem like they are very nice as well. I was a bit worried that it might be really alternative and other worldy, like rituals and incence and weird stuff; but thankfully its all very normal and logical and helpful.

We arrived on a freezing cold morning to a delightful old church done over for other uses. Not only was the heating on high but we were able to help ourselves to lovely fleece blankets that had been warming in front on one heater to keep ourselves soft and cozy! Plus cushions and pillows; how lovely! Off to a good start!

What I’ve been thinking about most is not the course so much, but how I introduced myself to the other ladies; no men in this particular course. My introduction of myself was that over the last year or so I’ve been progressively diagnosed with anxiety disorder, depression and now bipolar disorder. I told the other ladies that I’m now in the recovery phase of resting, starting medications, having doses changed and getting used to medicines.

Recovery phase.

Interesting.

When I got home that day I thought about that a bit more. And realised something. I tell other people that I’m in the recovery phase; resting, medications etc but I don’t let my brain get that memo. I’m telling myself a whole other message, which is hurry up and get your stuff together because your life is waiting for you and it won’t wait much longer!

See? A whole other message!! And quite a lot more stressful! So time to help myself out.

Danika, you are in the recovery phase.You can rest, you can allow time the healer of all things to have its place to work. You can allow medications to take their effect, you can attend your appointments with your doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist. You can go to your photography course, your mindfulness course, to free meditation class, on bird watching walks, on interesting day trips and excursions. You can take naps when you need them, rest when you are tired, socialise if you have the energy.

Can you take five minutes to realise how amazing this is? You have free rein to do whatever you feel like to help yourself and heal yourself!

Don’t think about how you can’t do everything that you want to, don’t worry about your limitations, don’t get put off by tiredness or weakness or feebleness. You can do whatever you feel like and are up to with whatever resources you have. That is amazing!

And make a new attempt at perspective, please. You have been on six different antidepressants on less than a year, each one taking a month to six weeks to show its full effect then needing to be washed out and a new one started. You have been on varying doses of a mood stabiliser since March and each dose or formulation change had its own issues. Remember that you started lithium not even eight weeks ago, and that the last dose change was just three weeks ago!

Three weeks. That’s not forever ago, you aren’t taking forever to get better, please remember that you are still taking step after step and every change takes some kind of toll, so you need time to roll through each new wave of turbulence.

 

 Don’t even think about work.

 

Those are the words from the psychologist provided with my insurance.

 

Don’t even think about it. Just relax, take it easy, take your time, get yourself better.

 

At my last psychiatrist visit we checked in again about my colossal weight gain and high cholesterol. He’s still thinking about putting me on a cholesterol lowering drug.

 

Its pointless trying to diet and exercise right now with all the changes in medication. You aren’t going to be able to do much about it until we get you stable.

 

Stable. We aren’t there yet. You are still in the figuring out what’s what and getting everything straightened out stage. You’re still adjusting to having this condition, and having to take medication twice every day and having to take life at a different pace.

But as always, instead of taking the psychiatrist’s words face value, I debated with myself and am still debating whether using that information is a cop out, and maybe I can do more about it than I think, and maybe I’m just being lazy and not trying etc. Typical!

But no, rest, relax, take advantage of this amazing time that you have. You’re young, you have time to fix your cholesterol, time to fix your weight, it doesn’t have to happen three weeks after changing doses of lithium! Sure, if you have the emotional and physical energy you can small changes now, but let’s resolve to postpone the big changes until 2015!

You’re in the recovery phase. You’re only job right now, is to recover. So off you go, recover. Rest, relax, enjoy, feast on this unexpected piece of time that’s been given to you, make the most of having very few responsibilities and hardly any “have to” claims on your time. Recovery.

Unwilling or unable?

Unwilling, or unable?

This is a difficult call to make.

It’s so subjective.

All that we have to go on is my opinion versus your opinion, with whatever evidence each of us has gathered plus whatever balancing knowledge we have at the time the call is made.

It’s something that I’m still battling with, and because I’m battling with it, I assume that there are others out there fighting with themselves over this. I don’t know for sure if there are, but I’m writing this anyway, for me and for anyone else who gets it.

Before I got sick. Such a statement! Also hard to define but I’ll use it anyway.

Before I got sick, I found this line easier to determine.

I’d get home from work, tired out and ready to relax and the thought of having to get together the where withal to get up and going again seemed impossible. Everyone has felt like that at some time.

So it comes down to a battle of the will.

I know I’m tired, will I allow myself to sit down and relax or will I get myself up and going to an exercise class I love and know I will enjoy/the supermarket for groceries to make a better dinner/the week night Bible study meeting which I’ll feel so refreshed after?

Will I, won’t I, will I, won’t I? It was a mental battle. From experience I knew that if I pushed myself I would get through whatever it was that I had planned on doing. It wasn’t physically impossible despite my tiredness. It was a matter of setting my mind to it being a non-negotiable task and doing it! Like work. You don’t wake up in the morning and think will I, won’t I go to work. You just get up, do what you have to to get organised and go!

Well at that stage I did. As the stress of my last job accumulated and compounded I did find myself waking up with a feeling of dread (hello anxiety!) and thinking do I really have to go? What if I just don’t go? What if I say I’m sick? What if I just stay in bed instead?

I guess I should have known that that was something else. That this was more than usual reluctance to get out of bed. I’ve always been a mid-morning person. Getting up has never been easy, but then again it had never been like this. Lying in bed watching the clock tick around to when I should be leaving. Feeling dread and stress and fear with a little smidgen of hope build up until I thought they could physically burst out of my chest.

But in our house growing up, the words “lazy-bones”, “wuss”, “sook” were tossed about like “hello”, “goodbye” and “how are you?”. As a consequence of those terrible words being acceptable to apply to children, I always question my own judgement towards myself, and wonder if indeed I am being a “wuss”, a “sook”, “weak”, “lazy”, lacking in having a backbone or courage or dedication or commitment or appropriate drive?

I think I’m learning these days to give myself more credit. To remember that I am a dedicated, committed professional who knows her responsibility in the workplace and fulfills her duties creditably; who wouldn’t “slack off” or “be lazy” or “not pull her weight” unless there was a solid decent reason. All words that no one else has used against me by the way, except for my old inner voice that I’m slowly chipping away.

I’m learning to know my limits and to communicate these to others. Not with the phrase “sorry to be a wuss but…”! With the phrase, “I have done x and y and z today and I’m pleased that I have accomplished so much. That is all that I can manage today. Thanks for your understanding”.

I think it’s called being assertive. Having been terrified of confrontation all my life I never really got the practice of asserting myself. I knew the theory but that only gets you so far. These days I’m realising that I am a person with valid opinions and thoughts. I’m finding that communicating this directly to others results in a better outcome for everyone. And I’m not so fearful of confrontation anymore. Because now I know that I am an equal part of the conversation/discussion/interview. I’m not the weaker part having to make up to the stronger part anymore. These are truly great days for my personal development!!

But it still comes down to this: what and where are the limits?

When is it enough without being too much? When could I push myself more? When am I taking it too far and risking exhaustion? Do I have more energy than I think I have? Could I maybe do just a little bit more, or should I call it a day?

How can anyone know the answers to these questions?

And then there are the other factors: I just don’t feel like talking to anyone today so I don’t want to go, I feel very anxious about going so I think it’d be better if I stayed home, I just can’t get my head together to go today, I’m too drowsy/sleepy/exhausted/tired.

I’ve been told to push myself, but to be careful not to exhaust myself. I’ve been told to learn to know my own body so it will tell me when enough is enough.

Who teaches these things? How can I learn these things? How can I know the difference between my body being tired and my mind being tired?

My body tricks me all the time. I’m sitting here an hour after a good dinner and my body is telling me it’s hungry. I know its not, but that’s not how it sees the situation! So how can I be sure about my body telling me when it has had enough? It feels like a marathon getting up, showered and dressed some days; my body tells me that it enough but surely that can’t be the limit.

If I can’t tell the limits, how can anyone else? I suppose this is my main point after all. Here’s me: I’ve got these limitations of conditions, medications, recuperation. How, considering all the variables, can any other person tell me what or how much or where or when I should be doing what I’m doing?

Not that many have tried, to give credit where credit is due. Most people have been endlessly helpful, patient with me in my disability, considerate of my limits and thoughtful of me in the middle trying to make me work.

I really do appreciate that!!

I guess it’s always a work in progress. The fact is that I can’t do everything that I would like to do; that’s just how it is right now. I am learning to accept these facts as they are without judging them or myself; that’s huge progress!

With the energy and motivation I do have, I do what I can. I get tired and worn out faster than I’d like. I don’t have the stamina I want. Some days I wake up and it’s just not my day. Then after a nap suddenly I’m firing on all cylinders again. And tomorrow, I might be rearing to go! I just don’t know, and can’t tell. It’s a trying, sometimes frustrating game trying to figure out my agenda for the week, or even the day, not knowing when or how or what I’ll be like with any definite prediction.

Another thing that it is very hard is to differentiate between what the condition causes and what the medication causes. Am I suffering from a side effect, or is this just the part of the condition that we haven’t got under control yet? I think only a trained doctor could answer that with any certainty, and maybe not even then.

So, in the meantime, I hope I’ll do what I can, but not too much, and hopefully figure out just what that is!!