Hard questions #1

*WARNING: this is a blunt and honest account of hygiene, specifically the lack thereof – you may not look at me quite the same after reading this, but remember that I am the same person, just struggling to keep my juggling balls in the air*

What I write here, I write to share with you the side of mental illness that isn’t necessarily obvious to the onlooker, be they aware or unaware of the illness. Or maybe its obvious, but not understood. I write it to break through the stigma, if I can, that still settles over the mentally ill and to raise awareness of what life is like inside a head that doesn’t let you be the boss very often.

I know this isn’t going to be glamorous. But believe me: I’m not trying to sensationalise the truth. If anything, I’m under-selling the real story. So here we go:

Some questions are hard to answer.

Some questions are unanswerable.

Some you just wish were!

Like,

“How long is it since you last had a shower?” – husband

 

Ummm…well…

I’m not really sure…ahhh…

Maybe…I don’t know…

I think it was…

Hang on, when did I last work? Was it then…no, that’s right, I dry shampooed…

So, then…maybe on the weekend? Which day was it…

You changed the towels a week ago?

I haven’t used mine yet? Hmm…

…well then I guess…well then I guess that’s when…ah, yeah…so…a week you say…

Now where was I? let me just…slowly walks awaydrowns in shame

Plans to shower tomorrowknows it probably won’t happen

more shamethat’s life!

There are a number of questions that you try your best to avoid hearing, and therefore having to answer, once chronic illness has set in.

Like, when did you last have a shower.

I was never a shower-a-day person. I grew up out of town in drought years and whenever the rain didn’t come we had to buy in tanker loads of water to fill up our concrete tanks because we weren’t connected to town water. For longer than I liked we didn’t shower, we bathed because it was much more economical for water use to run a bath tub full of water rather than have individual showers. Plus when we were little its just what you do; everyone piles in. When we were little the bathroom was also outside in the mud brick section of the house: shower and bath in one room, laundry in another, and toilet at the end. Later on in our school years we got an inside bathroom (toilet still outside) and it was one after the other, and you got to top it up with hot water if it ran cold, which by the time the 4th person got in was a high likelihood, never mind the parents. Especially because some people liked to have a sleep in there, regardless of those following! Okay I was one of those having a sleep in the bath, but I went last or close to last. If you were washing your hair you got to quickly rinse the conditioner off in the shower, given that the bath water wasn’t the cleanest by that point. Then again, showering wasn’t all it cracked up to be since the shower head was too short! It was half a gym workout doing squats under the tap while rinsing your hair!

So I was an every second day washer, basically just when my hair needed washing or my leg hair was getting to liberated woman stage! So when I got sick I didn’t exactly have the best routine to fall back on.

Why is showering so difficult and so irregular now?

There’s no simple, snappy one-liner answer.

It’s a few things.

My shower is in a bath. Lifting a leg over the tub just always seems so…HARD! I think about having a shower, and I think about getting one leg up and over, let alone 2 legs into that bath without over-balancing, the effort of getting my big self up and over into the tub and its just…its…its so…its just, yeah, well, maybe tomorrow.

So there’s that. Plus it takes energy. If I had a store of energy, like in a barn, I would go get the amount of energy that I need with my forklift and bring it back to the bathroom and have my shower. It would be simple, straightforward. I would just take the exact amount of energy needed, use it to have a shower and it would be all good! Sadly, unfortunately, regrettably, energy doesn’t store. It just comes and goes, waxes and wanes. You either have it in the moment or you don’t. There are things that help or not, but there’s no guarantee of having the energy you need when you need it. So, lying in bed thinking about having a shower and I ask myself, do I have the energy to do this right now? And it’s an easy answer, it’s a yes/no problem. So it either happens, or it doesn’t. I.e. it doesn’t. Because all that thinking just used up my having a shower energy! Isn’t that ironic? So now no energy, no shower and I turn my attention to covering up not having a shower, if its been more than a day.

There are things that make it a bit easier. Hubby getting the shower running and frogmarching me to the edge of the tub for instance. Well that’s about it, actually. There are hardly any things that actually motivate me to the point of getting up off my tush and having a shower, even my amazing husband. Even when he asks me to, as a favour to him. This is a point that a lot of people don’t understand.

“Don’t you want to do it for me?”, “Yes I do want to do it for you”.

“Do it for me”, “I can’t”.

“Can’t you even do it for me?”, “I’m sorry, I just can’t, even for you”.

It hurts me to give these answers. I love my husband more than anything in the whole world. We have been best friends since 2003, since we met practically. We’ve been married for nearly 8 years and have shared everything together. If I could do it for him, I would! Come to think of it, if I could do it for myself, I would! But its not about that. Its about not having the energy, the motivation, the drive to do it. If one of those questions comes up, it just makes me feel worse about the whole thing, which is not the intention I know; that I wouldn’t even do it for him, after all he’s done for me. How selfish!!

And maybe it is selfish. A lot of times depressed people have to make selfish choices for their own survival, be it mental, physical, or emotional survival. And it hurts us to do it. But we need to, even if you don’t see why. It’s not about you, its about us; that sounds selfish right there. But we spend a lot of time conserving our resources and we know what we can and can’t manage. But doing that means a lot of navel-gazing, inward looking so you’ll have to excuse us while we’re busy sorting ourselves out, please.

I think it is a severe understatement to say that my husband is long-suffering! He is beyond patient and kind with me, beyond what I deserve for trying his limits so severely with such things as:

  • unwashed hair looking and feeling greasy
  • the same hair tangled into dreadlocks-style clumps that have to be cut out after who knows how long of not brushing my hair, then dry shampooing, then not brushing, then dry shampooing etc
  • eyebrow/underarm/leg/bikini waxing abandoned I don’t even know how long ago anymore!
  • tooth brushing I also don’t know…well I do know cos I brushed them last week once, but before that its anyone’s guess and he suffers them orange with food stuff and still bravely kisses me when I must be repulsive with plaquey teeth and bad breath
  • BO is one area that I think is mostly under control thanks to Dove Invisible Dry with 1/4 soap
  • avoiding hand washing except when its absolutely necessary, meaning much less often than I should

You would think that because I love my husband so much, and because I know that I owe him so much, and want to please him, that these emotions would motivate me to fix these areas. He hopes that I would do it for him, and I’d love to be able to do these things for him, but wanting to do it and doing it are separate entities that rarely collide, I’ve found. Because while I DO want to do it, especially do it for him, wanting it doesn’t give you energy, the kick, the ability to actually get up and do it. I wish. So often, probably daily, my husband may well think that I don’t care enough about him to do one “little” thing for him like clean my teeth. But there’s just something so difficult to overcome in myself to just start to think about doing one of these things. I want to in theory, but practice hasn’t really tallied out on my side.

It’s difficult to explain why its so hard to do these things. After all they’re easy things that most people just do without even thinking about it. But its a common happening in depressed people to get slacker on these things. It’s just one of those things that goes when your mind and your body slow down. It takes 10 minutes of pros and cons to decide that I absolutely can’t go another day without showering, that even my soapy deodorant, dry shampoo and perfume aren’t going to cut it today. Then it takes a good 10 minutes to plan how I’m going to get up, walk the 9 steps to the bathroom (actually 9 steps), clamber into the bath and get the shower going. Then I may actually have a shower, or can it after all and skip another day.

I’m not alone. I was relieved when I found this out. Depression tells you that you’re a slob, and disgusting, and no one wants to be around you, and maybe thats not far off. But knowing that this is a common symptom of depression takes a little of the pressure off, which helps you to take it easy on yourself, which in its own twisted roundabout way means that you’re MORE likely to pick up some of the hygiene slack. So here’s what others have said

“Literally not showering for months. Not changing your clothes for weeks. Not combing your hair for days. Not brushing your teeth for weeks. With depression, hygiene goes out the window.” — Zoe S – The Mighty ‘Worst Symptoms of Depression‘ article.

“Not keeping in touch with anyone, bad personal hygiene and extremely bad reactions to seemingly trivial things.” — Jenny B – Upworthy ‘30 Things Depressed People Do‘ article.

“I love not having to decide if I’m mentally and emotionally prepared to spend time drying my hair after a shower” – a friend who just shaved her head for cancer awareness and fundraising.

“Thinking about going to the gymhaving a shower like”…hopefully this opens to a visual aid giving you an idea of how I think about showers.

But now, a new directive:

“Danika, I strongly encourage you to shower daily” – my psychiatrist

Rats!! *snaps fingers* I was hoping to avoid such a direct instruction!

“Not for hygiene…”

Well that’s surprising! All I’ve considered so far is hygiene.

“…but for your own self-worth. You aren’t showering because of low self-worth, and then not showering further lowers your self-worth. *cue light bulb moment* You have come from a long way back to get back to work and it hasn’t been easy, especially having issues with the pharmacy board and your current job, but you made it. As far as work goes you’re back to where you came from, more or less. Showering daily will reinforce to you that you’re back to where you came from, and improve your self-worth. Your actions inform your mind, just as your mind informs your actions” – my psychiatrist, quoted as near as I can remember.

Well that was all a revelation, I can tell you!

Showering to improve how I think about myself. Not cause its the thing to do, or for hygiene, or cause someone thinks I should. In fact, its all about me! And don’t we like that?

So, here I am the day after yesterday when I talked to my psychiatrist, 5.26pm, wondering when exactly should I have this shower? Cos I’ve managed to not have the time for it so far: dropping off the car to get serviced first thing then doing a jobs run of picking up clothing repairs/script dispensing/groceries/posting a parcel then walking home, breakfast, a nap, another little nap, house inspection, groceries delivered, pick up the car, Officeworks. And now going out to dinner…is there time before? Or when we get home? Hmmm.

I do feel like my head is in a different space though, after that chat. Shout out to my darling husband for dobbing me in to the psychiatrist!! Sheesh!! So, about that shower…

R U OK?

Today is R U OK? day. It’s an annual day nominated by the R U OK? suicide prevention charity to think about the people in our lives and consider if they are okay. More than that, it’s a day to take ourselves in hand, try to be brave and open a conversation if we think someone we know is struggling. Of course this is something that should happen every day. But today is a day to revive our intentions to be a good mate to our family, friends, colleagues, anyone we bump up against in our daily lives. It’s a day to understand a bit more about what drives people to consider suicide, and to learn ways that we can safely help them.

r-u-ok-3

I’d love each one of you my readers to check out the R U OK? website. Just pick one topic and give 5 minutes of your time to taking on some new knowledge, or understanding, or strategy. It really can change and even save a life. It’s that important.

r-u-ok-10

Some of the topics I think are great are Mates, resources for every day, news stories and information, but I’m sure you’ll find the topic that makes most sense, or means the most to you.

r-u-ok-11

I’ve been a mental health advocate (at least I think I have been) for a lot longer than I’ve been ill with mental illness. By that I mean that I’ve considered mentally ill people the same as myself just with a condition requiring treatment, and tried to show to others that they don’t need to be feared. As a child I was used to being around mentally unwell patients. One family friend had schizophrenia and another had bipolar disorder. We saw them regularly, saw them better and worse, visited them in hospital and knew they were just people like the rest of us. And they were just the people who had known, obvious, must-be-treated illnesses. Who knows how many people in my acquaintance had depression or anxiety that was more or less invisible. I wouldn’t know. It was never talked about. If they were there, I never knew. Which is a terrible shame.

r-u-ok-2

So today is about conversations. I want people to have conversations. But first of all I want to tell you why R U OK? as a charity and a question is so important to me.

r-u-ok-1

 

When I was depressed or anxious, I felt awful. I was barely dragging myself around, limping from bed to work and from work to bed. My brain was either whizzing or sluggish; it wasn’t very useful. I felt like all of this must be pasted across my face, and that surely someone would notice today that I was struggling and ask me about it. It had to be written on my forehead, I thought, why can no one see it, why is no one wondering what’s wrong with me? I was just dying for someone to see it and come to my aid.

r-u-ok-15

But nothing happened. I didn’t want to be attention seeking and bring it up myself, I wasn’t one of those people who was always making a fuss. But I was in pain here, it must be obvious. I thought of a hundred ways to bring it up, but I just couldn’t. It was too obvious a way to start a conversation, there was no easy lead in.

“So you’re having tuna for lunch, that’s interesting, did you know that I’m depressed?”

So I dragged myself around, wondering and waiting and hoping that someone would do the hard part for me and bring up so I could let it all pour out. And do you know the funny thing? Having felt so isolated, like no one could see the real me inside, like I was alone in this experience and so on, once I was officially sick and had told people about it, I had several comments along the lines “oh I thought so” and “I figured something was wrong” and “I knew something wasn’t right” and “you didn’t seem like your usual self”. If just one, only one person had actually said that out loud, it would have been such a relief, a balm, a comfort! It probably would have meant that I got help sooner. It could’ve shorten the process, and I would have been so thankful. It would’ve meant such a lot.

r-u-ok-12

Speak up. If you can see a change, say something. If things seem different, say so. The worst that can happen is that you’re wrong, and they are just having a bad day or week, or are preoccupied. But how can it hurt? At the least, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your concern, the effort that you’ve gone to, your care. It would be a rare person who would take exception to your kind heart.

r-u-ok-cat

The second part is knowing what to say. The reason for this charity’s name is that R U OK? is a powerful question. It might not seem like it, or seem much different to our usual greetings, but it works. We say hello, hi, howdy, how are you going? what’s up? how’s it going? how’s things? alright? and a hundred similar things so many times a day. And we’re programmed to response almost rote: good thanks, hey there, great, how about you? not much, well, yep and so on. So much so that if someone says something different to these, we can accidentally get caught saying good thanks before we’ve even registered that they’ve asked us what’s up?!

r-u-ok-7

But R U OK? hits a different nerve. It makes us really think about how we are, and it elicits an honest answer.

r-u-ok-8

So here’s what I want to do. I want you, one day over the next day or two, to count how many greeting encounters you have in one day. I consider one encounter to be one person say hello and/or how are you and the other person responding. Now I know for myself, home most days, there aren’t very many encounters. But for people working in retail there might be many, maybe more than what I’ve allowed for. I really want to know what your number is! Please get involved and let’s see how many times we bump up against each other each day.

r-u-ok-13

I’ll post the results as early as possible once you’ve had a chance to respond with data from your working life today and tomorrow. If you don’t read this until the weekend, give me your weekend numbers too.

My aim for this poll is to think about how many times we have a typical hi/how are you conversation. The next step after this is to consider what might happen if we changed ONE of these rote conventional habits into an R U OK? conversation. What could U achieve, how could U have an impact on someone else’s life? You already read my tales of mental illness, so you already have a kind heart and I daresay you want to help others too. This is the perfect chance, and I hope to take the baton and run with it.

r-u-ok-14

Back

Before I post this week’s missive I just want to say a huge thank you to each and every one of you who stopped by my little blog last week and read my disturbed thoughts. I was very much of two minds whether to post anything so personal and dark, but you all were so faithful in reading what I wrote, and those who contacted me were so kind that you restored my faith in writing the whole ugly truth. I love you all, and watching the stats rise was such an enormous encouragement to me! THANK YOU!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Back

Written late April 2016 after my latest work contract ended; updated 20th June 2016.

“I worked my a*& off to get back, really back; harder than I’ve worked at anything my whole life. ” – Detective Marcus Bell, Elementary

…”because there’s nothing like getting back for getting better” – current WorkSafe Victoria Return To Work campaign

Getting back; it’s what everyone recommends for getting better. I resisted it for a long while in my original sick leave but in the end I found that it was true! Occupation, purpose, time consuming work; it all helps to develop an inner feeling of being better, getting  back to normal.

But, as my deepest darkest suspicions have been humming a tune all along, it’s not enough. I’m not enough. My efforts are not enough. It was a dark moment! Or two…

There have been tears, and more tears; it was so disappointing!

More doubt, more undermining of my confidence that was fickle at best, more breaking through my denial of recovery to let the truth of ongoing illness in. Then there are moments of resolution, mostly led by my husband’s sensible, problem solving , kind voice where I decide actually I will be okay; I’ll be okay, I’ll figure it out.

It’s not what I want; I think that’s obvious. If I could do anything to change it I would. I tried to see if there wasn’t any way around this decision to relieve me of my job by not renewing my contract. I spoke with the powers that be reminding them of my loyalty, commitment, long term intentions and proximity, for goodness sake, if nothing else! But I can’t fight my way out of this. Maybe I have to let it be.

Oh that so does not sit well with me. But a good friend reminds me that maybe that’s the point; maybe this is a long term play for my strength of character not a short term game for my own convenience! Ahhhh…it’s hard to swallow but maybe I need that.

So here’s the situation: the workplace I was working in when I got sick doesn’t have any obligation to me, to rehabilitate me. I was working there on a one year contract when I got sick at the half way point, and wasn’t able to return to work for any more than two mornings a week in the last 6 weeks of the contract. And that was just a desperate scramble to try to be okay enough to stay on there. I was utterly unable physically, and not even slightly ready mentally to apply for a new full time contract, the only way that I could’ve stayed on. So the contract, and with it, the obligation, ended and I went back to bed. Not what I wanted, but I couldn’t do anything about it; I just wasn’t in a state to change things. It was what it was.

So then, after another 9 months at home, I started back at work with a short term contract at the next place that would take me. They also have no obligation to me, other than to offer the same support that they would offer any other employee. They took me on when I was returning to work; they knew that, and made some allowance. But it’s not their fault, not their duty. No special exemption or workplace mentors; no keeping a place for  while me while I convalesce and struggle to get back into the swing of things. You have to compete with every other well person and that’s just how it is. And when it’s over, it’s over!

Done                     3rd May 2016

I’m overwhelmed, I’m in dismay,

The job I had, the work, the pay

It did me good, it helped me stay

Above the blue line, come what may.

 

Now it’s over, my sad reply,

Tears of hurt and loss I cry,

Feeling useless, have to sigh

For fear of dark days once again nigh.

 

It did me good, it kept me busy,

Filled my days and weeks, and nearly

Convinced me that I was now surely

“Better”, “fixed”; was I silly?

 

Silly to be believe in “health” so easily,

Of usefulness, I thought sincerely

That all was good, I did feel truly

That this was it, “I’m better, really”.

 

The routine and the structure, see,

Work and occupation the key,

Helped me build life, ABC,

From sickness to health; 1, 2, 3!.

 

I got me carried away, and planned

To stay and work, but now that’s canned!

“I have no hours for you ma’am”,

It’s over; nothing to be gained.

 

You’re done here! Well it hit me hard,

I did not see it coming, barred

From that which made my life less marred,

It feels unfair, am I so tarred?

 

By that which has my brain entangled,

Bipolar, why have you now mangled

This, above all else was dangled

Hope, that by work I’d disentangle.

 

Please let me stay, I love it here,

The colleagues; the task; the jolly cheer,

And to my home it is so near,

Please let me stay, just anywhere.

 

I’ll type the scripts, talk on the phone,

Check the work that others have done,

I’ll smile, be nice, work with anyone,

Please, please, please don’t say I’m done!