Canberra Day 88

24th Feb 2017 – Firstly, my apologies for taking forever to get this post done! It’s almost irrelevant now, but I said I would do it, so…I am, on principle, IF that stands for anything by now. Some major procrastination has been going on around my writing and also the fact that I have to choose 1 photo out of 1000 photos, and out of 3 big events for this day.  But let’s just get this out and done.

[Thursday 8th December, 2016]

Day 88!! Can you believe that we’re this close to 90?? It has come around so fast and I can’t believe we’ll be leaving Canberra soon! I’m actually going to feel some pain leaving this place: I’ve gotten quite attached to this city and its attractions and its people and its design and so many little things. I almost feel like I could live here, if it wasn’t for the winter weather, and the summer weather a bit. It’s been a wonderful 3 months in my life, but it’s time to think about going home and keeping up the momentum that I’ve built up here. Meanwhile my poor husband is having nowhere near as much fun! He’s working very long days starting at 8am and going til 8 or 9pm! It’s not sustainable and he can’t keep it up for much longer, but they will not extend the deadline even though its nigh on impossible to meet!! So I’m free as a bird from dawn to dusk this week, although I’m not loving the dusk aspect, and he’s eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at work! Its not good. Speaking conservatively.

First of all, and something that I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time, is the graduation parade of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA). Since the Remembrance Day parade at the War Memorial I’ve been looking for any occasion to hear that band again! The Band of the Royal Military College, Duntroon are incredible!! Unfortunately there aren’t that many opportunities, and even less that fall in our time here. I’d love to hear the Australian Rugby Choir again too, but since that isn’t going to happen I’ve pre-ordered their CD coming out for Christmas. So I’ve had this date marked in my calendar for a while. Turns out I had the academy and the Royal Military College confused, and I could have gone to both and heard the band twice, but I thought it was one and the same. So instead of the backdrop of the ceremony being the paved parade ground and historic buildings of Duntroon, it was the parade oval of the academy. Never mind, I’m here and sitting in a great seat and ready to go. Turns out if you dress up, wear some heels, wait til 5 minutes before starting time and walk straight to an empty seat at the front, everyone accepts it! Pick up a program from the seat, get out my fan and camera, and don’t start any conversations; well, that’s right in my wheelhouse! Except I’m in the sun and it is BURNING my feet! Move back a row and closer towards the big leafy tree; still not good. Move back another row; people are staring. Sit down and don’t move! I’m in the shade body wise now, much better, but now the tree is hanging down a bit and obscuring my vision, and my feet are still burning! Tough, the ceremony is starting. And here comes the Australia’s Federation Guard onto the parade ground to perform the precise foot manouveurs of the graduation ceremony as a united marching force of Army, Navy and Air Force! Very impressive! Then the wonderful band, then the graduates, then the Governor General in the government Bentley, the inspection of the guard, and so on until the throwing of the caps. And in that 2 hour or so ceremony (more of the so) only 6 (and I use the word only sarcastically) of the graduates and Federation Guard standing still in the blazing sun had to carted off the grounds. And I mean carted. 3 service people actually fainted to the ground, the other three started staggering and wobbling around, and I swear one guy came THIS CLOSE to impaling himself on his ceremonial sword! Hopefully it’s not that sharp! Each one had to be frog marched off, and its weird but all of the people in charge of the escorting off of their fellow people were short; like they could fit under the patient’s armpits! Is that intentional? I’m so glad I went, it was really interesting and certainly not something you get the chance to do everyday. Home to bed for a short nap after all that exertion!

Then after a nap and lunch I went to the weekly Thursday only behind the scenes tour at the National Library. If you ever get a chance to do this, its a brilliant option; it is incredible back there! Full sized newspapers from the 1900s onwards bound into enormous books, audio and microfilm files of newspapers filling dark passage after dim passage of small drawers, a 2015 robot trundling books and audio and bits and pieces all over place on command announcing itself around every corner, and so much more! Truly fascinating. So much going on that you could never imagine. And all in a bombproof cellar under the main library! Definitely go if you get the chance.

Then another main event of the day, and also something that I’ve been waiting for: this time the fascinating Circus 1903 that has no animals and is located in the Canberra Theatre, not in a tent. It’s after hours, which I’ve been avoiding so I’m home when hubby is home, but he’s not going to be home tonight til late due to work so out I go! This is a circus based on circuses in 1903 as it suggests, so its a very interesting set with fabulous old fashioned costumes, a super tall New Yorker announcer and such a variety of circus acts. And an enormous puppet elephant, with a baby elephant! And when I say puppet, you have no idea! They were incredibly lifelike and very cleverly controlled, so impressive. All of the acts were very professional: balancing on boards sitting on progressive layers of rollers, cycling and skipping rope on the high wire, acrobatics in a dangling ring, proper knife throwing that had my heart beating fast, bicycle tricks, human throwing and juggling on the floor and from heights, regular juggling, and more. A fabulous night out!! The end!

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Canberra Day Ten

There’s something about “having” to get going in the morning to take hubby to work that really keeps me going and it’s working well. Actually, until his new workplace provide him with an ID and access to the change rooms (I mean its only been 7 workdays!), he’s been given authority to charge a cab to and from work. But I asked if I could still take him in of a morning, because it’s really working for me. And why tamper with a willing system?

I took my bike AGAIN today, two days in a row, and did the same combination of central loop/eastern loop of the Lake Burley Griffin bike path. I love that lake every time I see it: it’s so scenic, and rich with birds, and history. Not to be caught out with my camera twice, I slung it over my shoulder and headed off. Not the best set up but it worked well enough. It was pretty chilly but I had my camera and my bike and I was excited! Anticipation is so powerful. I guess it’s like hope, in a way. And hope is probably the most powerful counter balance to mental illness.

I got my photos of the NINE ducklings. YAY! Hope fulfilled. Plus unexpectedly another family of ELEVEN ducklings!! And TWO Masked Lapwing (previously Plover) chicks!!! And a baby rabbit! And a baby Golden Whistler that was playfully flitting around the tree above my head. This paragraph hardly does justice to the joy, the bliss, and excitement, and happiness that all of this brings to me! It was a beautiful morning. Not only that but I recorded MORE species of birds this morning; FORTY FOUR up from THIRTY EIGHT yesterday, including a Double Barred Finch which was a LIFER for me; a bird that I’ve never come across before. That’s because it doesn’t occur naturally in Victoria – truly a bird for above the border.

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I had another fun jaunt at Floriade checking out the shopping stalls, trying one some clothes, tasting the honey donuts which were a terrific recommendation from a friend, and checking out the flowers. I can already see some tulips starting to fall apart, and others popping up and starting to unfold. I can see how a week can make for a total change in the gardens. I still haven’t tried the ferris wheel, but I will.

You must check out my website for Spring Babies!

And for some photos of the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin check out Bike Ride and Baby Shower and Morning Lake Burley Griffin Drive.

So tell me…?

Something that I’ve found out along this journey with me, my head and I is that questions are really important.

It was that question that has become an advocate for helping others with mental health concerns that first triggered my understanding of the need for questions; R U OK?

I’ve always been interested in mental health and I saw this group pushing people to understand and use the question R U Ok? to start talking to others about what’s going on, what’s wrong, what’s troubling you, what’re your concerns? I thought it was a great idea and I bookmarked it in my head to use someday if I saw someone having a hard time.

I wasn’t sure that it would be effective but I planned to give it a go anyway; nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

But then, before I had a chance to use it to help another person, someone asked me, and I burst into tears!! Just like that! That is how powerful the question is and how right on target it is to really hit the spot when someone is down, anxious, fearful, despairing etc.

I didn’t think it would work. But I walked into a doctor’s room to get some routine results, she asked ‘are you okay?’ and it turns out I wasn’t, to a severe degree which I had not even realised up until that moment.

When she said, ‘how are you?’, as I walked in the door I said fine. That question is just too automatic and we are too programmed into a standard response that doesn’t really give an answer. We know when we ask it that it’s more for form than for really enquiring into someone’s health. It has become a greeting more than a query. Not to say that it can’t be used as a question; some people can inject that something extra that shows that they genuinely are enquiring about your health, but usually that’s not the case.

But there is something unique, direct and unusual about the question ‘are you okay?’ that hits a nerve, that registers with a person as an actual question and that demonstrates some extra kind of care and interest on behalf of the asker.

Questions are so important in mental health.

We can’t lay open a wound, or show an obvious dislocation, or contusion, or register a positive blood culture, or low blood level as evidence of our condition.

We may not look ill, or sick, or injured to other people.

All the evidence of our ailment is locked inside our heads.

It is literally all in our minds, but not in the way that that saying is usually used, to suggest that it’s a figment of our imagination!

There is nothing imagined or exaggerated or fictitious about any mental illness.

However there is a level of difficulty for anyone treating a mental illness, be it doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psycholgists, counsellors or any other health professionals.

To diagnose a mental illness, as with any other condition, a set of diagnostic criteria must be met. But none of those criteria are obvious when a patient walks in the door.

The diagnoser (doctor or psychiatrist) must be able to draw out the information that they need to make a diagnosis by asking questions. They need to ask a lot of questions. Questions designed to gather information, to confirm suspicions, to determine signs and symptoms of the condition.

They have to be very skilled in asking questions AND in listening to the answers for clues about what is going on with the patient.

It takes time! Sometimes a lot of time. Sometimes questions are asked over and over. There is a purpose to that; it is to gather the right information so that the right diagnosis is made and the right treatment given. It might seem repetitive but every question fills a useful part of the overall picture. It’s not a sign of incompetence on the part of the person asking the questions; its a part of their professional skill.

Patients most often don’t know what is going on with them. I’m a health professional with a clinical understanding of mental illness but I still didn’t recognise mental illness in myself. I just thought I was stressed at work. The fact that I was constantly obsessing over work all day and night, that I couldn’t sleep, that I was being clingy and petty and being a huge strain on my husband with my concerns and fears and anxiety didn’t occur to me to be an excessive reaction. So I can’t even imagine how patients with no prior knowledge of mental illness feel when they start to suffer from symptoms.

They might be scared, afraid, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, confused, in denial or fearful of what the diagnosis will mean and what treatment will be prescribed. So the doctor also has to tread carefully around the person’s soft or sore spots but still trod and poke enough to get what they need to do their job.

In any emotional state a person has more difficulty remembering and recalling, trouble giving an accurate history, limited ability in listening and responding, and struggles with taking in information. This is one of the reasons why questions need to be repeated; to be sure that the right answer has been given. It’s also why seeing multiple doctors on different occasions can be useful in building a clearer picture of what is going on.

Often a patient may not be diagnosed immediately, because of these factors. It may be considered in the patient’s best interests to allow them time to go away and calm down, to give more thought to the history of symptoms that they have experienced, and then to bring them back and ask further questions. Of course it isn’t safe for all patients to be sent away; some need to be kept for their own safety, some need to have treatment started immediately. For those who are sent home to return late, maybe the same questions will be asked all over again, and although it seems tedious to the patient, it is all for the purpose of gathering as much information as possible so that the best outcome can be achieved for every patient.

So, questions.

Tell me what’s been going on?

How have you been feeling?

When did this start?

Who have you already seen about this?

What treatments have you tried?

Has anyone in your family experienced any mental illness?

How long have these symptoms been going on for?

How severe are your symptoms?

What symptom is the most difficult for you?

What has brought you here today?

How are you today?

Compared to then, how are you now?

What do you think has triggered these symptoms?

What has happened that might have caused this?

What do you know about your condition?

What do you know about the treatment for this condition?

What’s the worst symptom that you are experiencing?

How are you coping?

Are you experiencing any side effects?

Give me a run down on how the last week has been for you?

How often do you shower?

How often have you been getting out of the house?

Are you finding enjoyment in life?

How has your motivation been?

What have you been getting up to?

Have you been hearing or seeing things that don’t exist?

Has anyone been speaking to you through other objects?

Are you suicidal?

Have you had thoughts of harming yourself or others?

Do you have a plan to harm yourself?

Have you had suicidal thoughts?

Have you had thoughts that are frightening to you?

How has your sleep been?

Tell me what you are afraid of?

Do you ever have periods of great energy when you can achieve a lot? Or when you don’t need sleep?

When are you not anxious? Are there any places where you feel comfortable?

What things make you anxious? What things trigger a panic attack?

There sure are a lot of questions that can be asked!! And this is probably the tip of the iceberg really, these are just the questions that I can remember from the health professionals that I saw. I’m sure there are many others for other mental health disorders.

And yet, the most important question is whichever one you ask to the person that you see struggling. It really doesn’t matter what it is. It can be r u ok?, how ya doing?, what’s up with you?, how are things?, how have you been going lately?.

As long as you take the courageous step of asking and listening, you will be doing the right thing. Go you!!

Rainy Days and Mondays

Have you heard that song?? Olivia Newton-John sings it beautifully with her haunting, husky voice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWwVN2HiWyg

“Hanging around, nothing to do but frown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down”.

Not very inspiring, but it’s a song that resonates with me. As it has done for many years. As a teenager my parent’s concession to music in the car was not the top 40 station in our town. If there was going to be music, it would be Mum’s pick of classic FM or Dad’s pick of Olivia Newton-John or various country singers. And I got to love Olivia’s Indigo Women of Song album; I would pick it out to play just for myself, not just listening because someone else was choosing the music.

Probably the indigo theme and the songs resonated with me so much that first summer that I heard them because I was in a depression. I didn’t know that’s what it was. All I knew is that we were on holidays at the beach, my favourite place in all the world and everyone around me was happy. But I wasn’t happy. I was sad, I felt worthless, I felt that I was separated from all the fun, unable to engage, unmotivated, tired. I faked it, and I don’t think anyone around me knew just how terrible I was feeling. I felt like the earth was going to end. I felt like I couldn’t survive. I couldn’t sleep – I would toss and turn with my thoughts all night long, getting maybe a few fitful hours in the early morning. I felt like all these awful thoughts that were running circles in my brain were haunting me!! I couldn’t get away from them! My then-boyfriend, now amazing husband doesn’t remember me being depressed. But he remembers how many fights we had that holiday. I don’t remember any fights, all I remember is feeling so so bad and not knowing why or how to fix it.

I look back on the happy snaps, and I see the smiles into the camera and they don’t look fake. There are some real “I’m happy to be here” smiles. Was I that good at faking, or were there some great moments amongst the crippling darkness that I just didn’t notice? Were they the moments when I was able to shut my mind to the black and despairing thoughts? And truly be happy? I don’t know. It was a long time ago. I do remember good parts of that holidays to Robe, SA. Discovering the ‘Coconut Robe’ and playing chess together while eating icecream. Going for drives exploring the surrounding countryside and boogy boarding down sand dunes. Stopping off half way to check out some cool waterfalls.

There were good moments. A lesson I’ve learned this year is that even the worst days have good moments. It’s a cliche, but it really is true. So now I try to look for those moments. It takes practice, it requires you to put in an effort, and there are days when it’s so hard it seems impossible. But it’s worth it if you get there. IF.

So that was my summer of 2007. I had completed one year of uni studying pharmacy, and one year of living in the big smoke. I was going on holidays with my family of 6 and my boyfriend of 4 years. We were going somewhere new, a big occasion because every year except one we had always gone to the same beach location in NSW.

I was 19 years old. I was depressed. I did nothing about it. I thought it was some kind of punishment, or that the thoughts in my head were some kind of trial that I had to get through. I didn’t understand it was a chemical imbalance that could only be corrected by replacing the chemicals. I didn’t think to go to a doctor, a counsellor or to tell anybody. I thought it was something I had to deal with on my own. So I did. And it eventually got less and less and it did subside. It took months. MONTHS. All the while I was desperately trying to fill in my life with distractions: TV series, chocolate/chips/lollies/takeaway food, going out with friends, staying out late, listening to music loudly to block out the sound of my thoughts, taking up new hobbies etc. All the while tackling a second year of uni and life in the big smoke and expecting big achievements from myself, as always.

I was diagnosed with depression in December 2013. Nearly 6 years later. Finally a label. Finally a treatment plan. Finally someone validating the awfulness, the fear, the guilt, the terrible circulating thoughts, the exhaustion, the lack of enjoyment and motivation.

There is nothing that feels so awful as being sad in the middle of the perfect life!

I had wondered. I had thought out the fors and againsts. I’m a health professional. I know the diagnostic criteria. But of course, with the unrelenting high standards that I hold myself to, I didn’t think I was “that bad”. I had even gotten to thinking maybe I should go to a doctor and ask. But I didn’t, I said to myself “you’re just being lazy and slack, pull yourself together and stop looking for excuses”.

I look back over my life and draw a lifeline. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately, looking back. From 12 years old to today. I draw in events: starting high school, getting a boyfriend, a traumatic relationship, Mum getting cancer, a terrible job, friend dying. Everyone has their own lifeline and events are more or less severe. Lots of things happen in life. But with the knowledge and experience of this beast I now see my life differently.

I see that summer when I thought I was going to have to go to high school with the bullies from primary school and I see now that I was withdrawn, awfulising (my GP’s word), ruminating, I lacked interest in events around me, I couldn’t enjoy the holidays. I was depressed. This wasn’t just a fear that is logical. This was obsessing day and night, can’t sleep, expecting the worst, sure that life is going to be terrible.

This is not normal. I have to keep this thought in the front of my mind now. I have lived with this monster for so long, and thought it was just a part of life for so long that I expect so much of myself in very adverse circumstances.

I see the winter of 2004 when I was dating my then-boyfriend-now-husband but was obsessed with thoughts of the past, felt worthless, undeserving of him, unmotivated and like nobody could love me. I was depressed.

This is not normal. Starting to date someone should be a time filled with happiness, enjoyment of life, fun and games. Which is what I was on the surface but underneath I was tortured. I thought I should tell him I can’t keep dating you because I am so unworthy, so damaged, so broken. Not normal.

The song calls them rainy days. Today is a rainy day. Not literally, although it’s meant to rain and hail later in the afternoon. I actually woke up to bright sunshine shining on the eucalypt trees outside my window. No sunshine comes into my bedroom in the morning. There are no rays of light shining onto my floor, my bed, my face. I wake up, and then look out to see what kind of day it is. I would like it so much more if I had an east-facing bedroom window, so that the sunshine could come right in and shine on my face to wake to me. But it is what it is.

“What I’ve got, they used to call the blues, nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don’t belong, walking around, some kind of lonely clown, rainy days and Mondays always get me down”.

The blues. Sounds lovely to me, determined as I am to avoid the blacks, the midnight navy, the deep greys and even the light greys. Colours are a great representation but I think that label “the blues” trivialises the condition that is depression.

There is a deep dark difference between having the blues, feeling blue, feeling down, having a rough day, and being depressed. Not to make light of anyone who feels down, it’s never nice, but “the blues” and depression are not interchangeable describing words.

So a rainy day. This isn’t a day of depression as such, it’s a day of in-between. Not feeling good, not feeling great, just not feeling too much. A ‘meh’ or ‘blergh’ or ‘ish’ day. Unmotivated, energy-poor, wanting to stay in bed all day, not bothered to do too much, can’t see the point in much. Leaking tears every now and then, otherwise just going “okay”. Kind of sitting on the brink of okay and not okay. Nothing really wrong, just not where I want to be over there with everyone else enjoying their day.

“What I feel has come and gone before, no need to talk it out, we know what it’s all about…”

It’s just one of those days. I’ve had them before, I guess I’ll have them again. Nothing tragic has happened, but the world is just tinged blueish. I know it’s just a result of the chemistry being not quite right. Partly my fault. I’m taking a regime of antidepressants where I have one at 7am, one at 11am and one at 2pm. Not the easier to remember so I have my life set to alarms to help me remember. However I went into the city at 10am yesterday and forgot all about taking the tablets with me. So I missed 11am, then I missed 2pm then by the time I got home at 3.30pm I wasn’t sure whether to take them so I didn’t. Not a great move, by 6pm I was a dreary little raincloud sitting around the house waiting for something to go wrong, and waiting to rain. Which I did. So then I figured I didn’t care if I didn’t sleep, I would take one late anyway. And it helped.

The fact that missing a tablet or taking a tablet can change my day shows how fragile the balance of chemistry still is. I’m a ways off being stable. But patience, patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, etc. I just want to rush the process of getting stable. 9 weeks off work, sitting around the house all day – sounds like fun to someone working full time but I am not finding it fun anymore. It’s more tedious than fun.

But, still I have to try to find the fun, find the benefits, find the happiness in each day. Every day is a gift, whether it feels like it or not. It’s up to me to see the silver lining, the cup half full, the upside etc.

So what is it today?? Some TLC from my great husband, lunch out together at a bakery on the river, a bit of birdwatching, doing some chores together. Gotta keep looking past the rainy days and Mondays to find the sunny days, even the cloudy days without rain. Seeing the good inside the bad is a good plan, a sound plan. It’s one that I have on a poster on the wall because it’s hard to remember. Still, I keep trying. And that’s what counts, isn’t it?

Picture of a cloudy, rainy day over the river

Walking along the river after a nice lunch at the bakery, looking up for birds with rain dropping in my eyes, swallows flitting overhead and a very brisk wind!

Pretty white flowers with yellow centre

Finding joy in unexpected places, pretty white flowers dancing in the wind and rain near the bakery