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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?!

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

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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.

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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.

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Bike learning

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!
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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 🙂

Serendipity

I had been looking forward to this past Saturday all week!

It was going to be my very first bird watching outing with BirdLife Australia, a group that I have recently joined as they seem to perfectly fit my need for like-minded people who are just as excited by finding birds as I am! They are a bird watching, photographing and conserving group and there are a bunch of great benefits to being a member! Exciting times!

So far all of my bird watching has been fairly ad hoc, on the run and just as I happen upon it. I’ve been fortunate to have wandered into many excellent birding locations by chance and happenstance, and a few excellent recommendations from friends have definitely given me a helping hand in the right direction. We are very blessed in Australia with birdlife, and Victoria is no exception. Luckily many varieties of birds still happily inhabit our backyards and local parks so that often we don’t need to make an effort at all to see many birds of all colours and sizes and sounds.

I joined this group a little while back and mostly for their regular birding outings as I still have a fair amount of caution about diving into thickly wooded areas alone! I’ve been testing out my nerves lately about going out alone into nature, and I’ve found out about myself that I’m okay walking around grassy open parks, okay with going into thicker wooded areas if it’s just a short section of the park, happy in any parks near a busy road and occasionally with full mobile reception and fully charged battery I’ll brave further off road. And so far I’ve been perfectly fine, so I’m gradually getting less jumpy and wide-eyed 🙂

My generalised anxiety has mostly abated with the treatment that I’m on for bipolar and depression but being a female alone in a area where no-one can see me, probably no-one can hear me scream and where I could potentially although quite unlikely but still scarily be attacked is one residual fear that I can’t quite shake off. I’m getting a lot better but I guess it probably is a safe and self-preserving habit to have. Especially since I’m taking most of my excursions during the middle of the day, which isn’t a peak time for other people to be walking through parks and gardens. Anywho, point being, I’d rather go with a bunch of strangers that I’ve never met than by myself 🙂 Especially when every one of the strangers is as interested or more in birding as me, and probably not so much in the other people around them.

Having said that, if I can coerce my husband or one of my friends to go with me, and they’re available during the same non-working hours as me, I’d definitely take that over the stranger business!

Moving on. My other motivation for joining a bird watching group was their expertise in identifying and locating birds and their intimate knowledge of birds and where to go and what to find when.

The particular sub group who had organised this bird watching trip are especially interested in photography which is perfect for me!

I’ve taken the opportunity while I am off work and free during the day to take an eight week course in photography. I saw a flyer for the course when I was out on a bird watching walk at Blackburn Lakes and it looked like exactly what I’d been needing.

The poster asked if I had a digital SLR camera but was still using it on auto? Why yes I was. It asked if I was frustrated with my photos and wanted to learn how to master my camera? Absolutely! So I signed up and started the classes. And I have learned a LOT! Still more to go but I’ve done five classes and I have already been able to apply a lot of what I’ve learned to my photography but I need to practice, practice, practice. I’m also learning the imperfections of my camera as I go along, and my list of what I need is growing…I can see that an upgrade will be in the cards some day but in the meantime I’m just enjoying being able to take better photos than what I could before 🙂

So, bird watching group found and joined; photography course turned up at the right time with the needed skill set; and now I’m all set for a day out enjoying the best of both! Yay for me!

So Saturday morning, Serendip Sanctuary, somewhere short of the You Yangs. I woke up to a good going fog and it was consistent all the way along highway and kept up to some degree most of the day. It was interesting to see how the fog showed up in photos taken at long zoom.

The Serendip Sanctuary wetlands, gum tree, green grass, water

The Serendip Sanctuary wetlands

A good drive with no traffic later, I pull into the car park. High excitement! Followed by a few moments of oh my goodness I am way out of my league! when I saw all the tripods, enormous camera lenses, binoculars, camouflage, neutral toned clothing and vibe of general expertise! Oh no I’m the amateur surrounded by experts! But everyone was very reassuring and helpful and in fact very keen to teach and show me the ropes.

Our group of bird watching and photography enthusiasts, all much more well equipped than me! lens, camera, camouflage, tripod

Our group of bird watching and photography enthusiasts, all much more well equipped than me!

Before I even got into the park I had seen several emus grazing in the paddock next to the sanctuary! Awesome! I’ve hardly ever seen emus in the wild; how exhilarating!

Emus in the wild! Not a great photo at full zoom and the fog really shows up at that distance!, grassland, bushland

Emus in the wild! Not a great photo at full zoom and the fog really shows up at that distance!

It turned out to be the most amazing day out! I think one day back a few months ago around Kialla Lakes I counted 25 species of birds in one day. Someone else is the group was counting on Saturday and I heard that they got over 50! Of course some we can’t take much credit for; some sections of the park were enclosures of captive birds, so that was easy game but that didn’t take any of the enjoyment out of seeing birds that I haven’t seen before.

Fun fun fun! I highly recommend this beautiful sanctuary; I find it absolutely astonishing that so many beautiful birds and animals can be accessed for nothing at all! Zero charge; amazing! There are enclosures, open park land, paddocks, waterways and wetlands, hides walking tracks; everything you need for bird watching.

One of the hides looking out over the wetlands, gum trees, swamp

One of the hides looking out over the wetlands

So of course I have to add some photos, but I promise only to post birds I have seen/posted ever before. I’m a bit disappointed with my photos, a lot had annoying camera shake which has me warming to the idea of a tripod but still not sure how it’ll work for me. I’ll have to keep thinking about it…

Ok not new but I am very proud of how this photo of a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks turned out!, wooden post, trees

Ok not new but I am very proud of how this photo of a pair of Chestnut Teal ducks turned out!

Overall I think my shutter speed was too slow for a lot of photos so I ended up with a lot of blurry shaky photos; but at least I know how to improve my shots next time.

Another shot that I am very happy with, I think the bird is a White-Browed Scrubwren but happt to take other opinions, gum tree, branch

Another shot that I am very happy with, I think the bird is a White-Browed Scrubwren but happy to take other opinions

Male Red-Rumped Parrot showing all of his fabulous colours; of course it is easier to get great shots in a small enclosure, bird wire, bird feeder

Male Red-Rumped Parrot showing all of his fabulous colours; of course it is easier to get great shots in a small enclosure

Female Red-Rumped Parrot, very difficult to find through the viewfinder!, green grass, dew

Female Red-Rumped Parrot, very difficult to find through the viewfinder!

Definitely not new, but I love this picture of a Willy Wagtail at rest for a brief second, wooden post

Definitely not new, but I love this picture of a Willy Wagtail at rest for a brief second

Okay I officially take back my statement that I will only post new birds; I just can’t stick to it!

Cute little bunny rabbits hopping around the enclosures, green grass, paddock

Cute little bunny rabbits hopping around the enclosures

I find male Superb Blue Wrens are always delightful to photograph no matter how many times I get the chance, green grass

I find male Superb Blue Wrens are always delightful to photograph no matter how many times I get the chance

I got such a great series of this New Holland Honeyeater but this is one of my favourites, gum tree, blossoms

I got such a great series of this New Holland Honeyeater but this is one of my favourites

Beautiful Cape Barren female goose with gosling in the nest

Beautiful Cape Barren female goose with gosling in the nest

Now this really is a first, an apparently an uncommon sight: the White-Winged Chough!, gum trees

Now this really is a first, an apparently an uncommon sight: the White-Winged Chough!

A Black-winged Stilt mirrored in the wetlands, not as good a photo as I would have liked; reeds, water

A Black-winged Stilt mirrored in the wetlands, not as good a photo as I would have liked

My favourite photo of a male Superb Blue Wren, unfortunately affected by reflection from the glass, swamp, window sill

My favourite photo of a male Superb Blue Wren, unfortunately affected by reflection from the glass

I have been trying for a while now to get a good picture of a Welcome Swallow flying and this is the best yet; still have a ways to go, swamp, wetland

I have been trying for a while now to get a good picture of a Welcome Swallow flying and this is the best yet; still have a ways to go

A beautiful example of the many Magpie Geese around the waterways, wetland, swamp

A beautiful example of the many Magpie Geese around the waterways

A very cute Wallaby checking out the surroundings, one of several lounging around, leaves, dirt

A very cute Wallaby checking out the surroundings, one of several lounging around

The easiest shot of Red-Browed Finch ever; of course they were safely in their enclosure from which they could come and go, but we could not!, drinking, dish of water

The easiest shot of Red-Browed Finch ever; of course they were safely in their enclosure from which they could come and go, but we could not!

Another new kind of duck! YAY! This one is the male Freckled Duck, it was quite shy so I was not able to get a good clear shot, grasses, red nose

A new kind of duck! YAY! This one is the male Freckled Duck, it was quite shy so I was not able to get a good clear shot

This Beach Stone-Curlew did NOT want to be photographed! He just kept walking away

This Beach Stone-Curlew did NOT want to be photographed! He just kept walking away

An unexpected delight! Spotted tiger quolls playing together, branches

An unexpected delight! Spotted tiger quolls playing together

What a beautiful multicoloured Buff Banded Rail! A lovely discovery, green grass

What a beautiful multicoloured Buff Banded Rail! A lovely discovery

For a duck afficionado, this Musk Duck is just amazing! What strange characteristics it has!, rocks, green grass

For a duck afficionado, this Musk Duck is just amazing! What strange characteristics it has!

Another delightfully colourful bird, the Blue-Faced Honeyeater - none of my shots were in clear focus but this shows the colours at least

Another delightfully colourful bird, the Blue-Faced Honeyeater – none of my shots were in clear focus but this shows the colours at least

An inscrutable Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a log on the ground, safe and sound in his enclosure, grey, brown

An inscrutable Tawny Frogmouth sitting on a log on the ground, safe and sound in his enclosure

Red-Cheeked Honeyeater, very common but still a fun shot, eucalypt

Red-Cheeked Wattlebird; very common but still a fun shot

I wish I could have got a clear shot but any shot is great for my very first time seeing Brolgas, especially when there is an adorable baby Brolga!, fences, gates, green grass

I wish I could have got a clear shot but any shot is great for my very first time seeing Brolgas, especially when there is an adorable baby Brolga!

Also the first close-ish photo that I have gotten! I was told that it is a Black Shouldered Kite; I have no idea, birds of prey are an area I have no experience in at all!, dead tree

Also the first close-ish photo that I have gotten! I was told that it is a Black Shouldered Kite; I have no idea, birds of prey are an area I have no experience in at all!

I have an amendment to make to a previous post from Lake Drysdale where I wrote that I saw and photographed Masked Lapwing plover chicks. I was mistaken; they are in fact their own species, the Red-Kneed Dotterels.

Entertaining little Red-Kneed Dotterels fishing along the shoreline, bushes, march

Entertaining little Red-Kneed Dotterels fishing along the shoreline

One slight conflict of birding with experienced birders is that I am ecstatic at every bird I see, and they are only really excited if it seems to be an unusual or interesting bird…ah well, I still made use of their expertise and knowledge so no complaining 🙂

I am told this was another Black Shouldered Kite; I will have to check it out for myself. One slight conflict of birding with experienced birders is that I am ecstatic at every bird I see, and they are only really excited if it seems to be an unusual or interesting bird...ah well, gum tree

I am told this was another Black Shouldered Kite; I will have to check it out for myself. 

A gorgeous little Black-Fronted Dotterel fishing along the shoreline, water, reflection,

A gorgeous little Black-Fronted Dotterel fishing along the shoreline

Wow! I do not know what to say about this odd looking male Australian Bustard! Quite unique!, bushes, green grass

Wow! I do not know what to say about this odd looking male Australian Bustard! Quite unique!

And finally, just for fun, a cheeky New Holland Honeyeater posing for us while dancing up and down on the window

And finally, just for fun, a cheeky New Holland Honeyeater posing for us while dancing up and down on the window

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.

“Totally incapacitated”

Here’s one of the perks of being a health professional.

When the tables are turned and I find myself on the other side of the bench/bed/clipboard, I can understand the language.

When a doctor, nurse or other health professional forgets to translate the Greek/Latin into English I still know what they’re saying.

I know the medical terms. I know the diagnostic criteria. I know the treatment plan. I know the drill.

Because it’s my language, usually.

“Take these tds. Experiencing anhedonia. Query gets elevated. Ruminating. Appropriate. BP1”

I spent years learning all the terminology so that complex medical information can be quickly and easily communicated to other health professionals. And then spent years of practice learning how to translate it back in a simple, un-involved way to patients and non-health professionals.

So now, when I see a doctor it doesn’t matter whether they use the Greek/Latin or English; I can understand.

This has its downsides.

Sometimes doctors use Greek/Latin code to communicate sensitive information amongst themselves that the patient doesn’t necessarily need to know at a point in time. Information that may have a negative impact on the patient. Information that may alarm the patient unnecessarily. Information that may skew the way the patient sees themselves and reports information to the doctor. Or many other reasons.

Patients don’t like this most times. They want to know. They want to be told. They want the translation of doctor-speak.

And so they end up asking for information that is unnecessary; that will later prove to be irrelevant; that scares them for no good cause; that gets them looking for specific signs and symptoms that may not be there and creates a degree of paranoia; that gets them reporting biased information to the doctor instead of giving the full range of  information that the doctor needs to determine a diagnosis or treatment plan.

For example a patient comes to the doctor with a dry cough that has been going on for a couple of months.

In the doctors’s mind the common causes are viral, post-nasal drip after a cold/flu, or chest infection. The less likely causes may include tuberculosis (TB) or lung cancer. But of course no doctor will tell a patient who has just walked in to the surgery that they may have lung cancer or tuberculosis. That would create panic, scare them for no reason and bias the patient to give information that they think is related to lung cancer or TB. It would create a lot of emotion that would take a long time to deal with and is unnecessary.

Instead the doctor runs through a series of questions to rule in or rule out different diagnoses and comes to a conclusion, makes a diagnosis and comes up with a treatment plan. Without causing bias or terrifying the patient by telling them the options that they are ruling in and out. Without giving them unnecessary or irrelevant information. Without telling them information that somehow they think they need to know.

They communicate the diagnosis and treatment plan and send the patient on their way.

(This is an example only and not a comprehensive diagnostic description!)

The unfortunate thing about knowing the language is that I get these sensitive bits of information. I get information that I don’t need, that may end up being irrelevant. I get information that scares me, that changes the way I think about myself and the way I look for symptoms. I get information that is more than I can handle, that weighs me down.

Here’s a translation of the terms above:

“Take these tablets 3 times every day. The patient is suffering from an inability to experience pleasure in, or enjoy, day to day life. There is a possibility that the patient suffers from episodes of mania including high energy, extra happy moods, enhanced appetite, lack of judgement and self control. The patient is experiencing circulating thoughts on the same subject that keep going around and around and prevent other thoughts. The patient is behaving in a reasonable manner and is not demonstrating any unusual symptoms. Bipolar 1 disorder, otherwise known as manic depression where a patient can experience episodes of severe depression and then alternatively experience manic episodes of high energy, excessive behaviour and ultra happy moods.”

So you can see why health professionals are taught Greek/Latin!! It makes communication so much simpler and easier. Saves a lot of talking in critical situations.

But for me, instead of hearing a few blah blah words, I get the whole lot dumped into my brain. Which is a lot of information. Especially about things that aren’t confirmed and are only a “query” or possibility. It changes the way I scan myself and look for symptoms. It changes the way I think about myself. It confirms the negative symptoms. Sometimes it confirms that I’m doing okay. Sometimes it confirms ‘maybes’. Sometimes I just don’t want to know!

A few colleagues have said to me at different times: “so what antidepressant did you choose?”

I guess it’s a tendency of health professionals to semi-diagnose themselves, think out a probably treatment plan and consider the pros and cons before going to another health professional, usually a doctor.

But that’s just not how it has been for me. I got sick. I felt awful. I got desperate.

So desperate that I just wanted to put myself in someone else’s hands, to not have to take care of myself anymore, to give the responsibility over to someone else.

I didn’t want to think about treatments, I didn’t want to know about the decision making process, I didn’t want to have the burden of deciding which antidepressant was most appropriate for me, a 26 year female of child bearing age with irritable bowel syndrome, reflux, previous clotting disorder and high blood pressure while taking an SNRI, venlafaxine, exercise-induced asthma, previous failure of therapy while taking an SSRI, fluoxetine, feeling suicidal despite taking 2 antidepressants for the prior 2 months.

I didn’t want the knowledge. I didn’t want the automatic analysis that I’m trained to give to any clinical scenario. I didn’t want to have to think it all out. I just wanted someone else to figure it all out and fix me.

So my message: think before you ask for knowledge, before you demand a translation from your doctor. Do you want the knowledge? Will you be able to handle it? How will it affect you? Do you really need it?

Or is it better to sit back, trust the doctor, and believe in the treatment that they have tailored specifically for your personal characteristics?

I’m not suggesting blind faith, or unearned trust but my recommendation is to think about what you ask of the doctor. Because they do have to give you the answer, even if it will only harm.

Because some words you can’t un-hear or un-read. Like when a doctor writes an insurance report for your income protection payout and gives it to you unsealed because you understand this stuff. And you read it and the reason he’s written for you not being able to return to work is that you are:

“totally incapacitated”.

That will hit you like a brick! It will make you re-evaluate your progress and current state of sickness/wellness. It will get you wondering if you are actually worse than you thought. It will get you wondering if you are useless.

It will start a chain of self-doubt and pondering. Suddenly you’ll think “can I” instead of “I can” or “I will”.

Am I actually a capable person who lives and breathes and cooks and cleans and drives and makes decisions and has responsibility?

Or is that a delusion? Am I actually not doing anything at all?

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.

But can you manage the power or will it overwhelm you?

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR.

Are you wanting to know details that can have no advantage or benefit to you, and are best left well alone to someone else’s responsibility?

Take it from me, if you will: you may save yourself a load of stress and anxiety, sleepless nights, fretting and worrying by leaving be details that will only weigh you down.

Let alone and be free.

wooden boat on an Amazon tributary at sunset

Peaceful serenity at sunset in the Amazon Rainforest near Puerto Maldonado, Peru