Canberra Day Forty

[Thursday 20th October, 2016]

It is a wonderful thing to have friends. It’s been one of the most amazing things about being ill: finding out how many friends I have! I love you all!! Today’s plan was to have coffee with a friend, actually someone I knew before we moved up to Canberra. We caught up at a great cafe, coffee and cake for $10! At Canberra prices, this is a bargain. We have definitely found food prices are higher than Melbourne; maybe less competition? Or people on higher salaries? I don’t know. Anyway Cafe Injoy gets my recommendation. A brilliant catch up for a couple of hours; what better way to spend the day? Then I drove around the village of Hall checking out the Canberra tracks historical signs which was kind of fascinating; plus the scenery over there is gorgeous on a sunny spring day. Then I called by “home” to get yet another few things that we forgot when we moved! Then “home” for a nap, then out to a ‘create your own’ burger 2-for-1 deal and free sundae from Macca’s Monopoly, and home again, gig-a-de-gig!

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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.

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!

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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!

 

 

 

Partners

This one is for the partners.

My head doesn’t hurt today, so let’s do this.

Without partners, many of us wouldn’t be here today. So many of us owe our partners our lives and our health, however much of that we have.

Who’s we? Could be anyone. I’m referring to myself as someone with mental illness. But it could be anyone with a physical disability, a handicap of any kind, some issue that needs regular treatment and support.

In the background, often silent, are the pillars that we lean on, often heavily, to stay upright.

I don’t think these amazingly supportive people are known and recognised enough. They deserve all kinds of medals, and recognition, and prizes, and awards.

But that’s not why they do it. They simply love us, even in our un-lovableness, and do their best by us and give us the greatest gift ever; someone who will stand by us through it all. That is amazing!

What’s even more amazing? In a lot of cases, they didn’t sign up for this.

They committed to us long before they knew, or we knew for that matter, that we were going to be a burden on them. They could be excused for feeling “I didn’t ask for this, I shouldn’t have to do this, this isn’t fair!”. But that’s not how they react. At least not outwardly, and who would blame them for thinking this inwardly??

They give us love and kindness and support, and that is a beautiful thing! They have such a capacity for longsuffering, even when we are a real trial to them!

Speaking for me, my husband has had to deal with panic attacks, paranoia, depths of depression including being suicidal, not showering for a week, doing nothing around the house, hypochondria, manic episodes, non-existent romantic life, sleeping all the time, having to come home from work to cook, clean, do the washing etc, me not working for 16 months, my absent memory and recall function…I could go on. But this isn’t about me.

This is about him. Sure he occasionally gets frustrated, angry, fed up, feeling overworked and underpaid. I’m not surprised! This is a thankless job! I’m trying to make it more thank-full. And he gets worked up a lot less often than he could!

But without him, I really do often feel like I would surely fail.

He stood by me in the emergency department arguing my case when I was beyond being able to argue anymore. He sat at home for days on suicide watch. He’s been to countless appointments, suffered through my drug side effects, tried to coax me along when I was cranky as anything because I felt lousy!

I’m trying to stand on my own feet more, and I am, a bit. I’m trying to notice the dishes, the washing, the cooking, the cleaning more and do a bit more. Because it means something to him mostly. Also a bit because it makes me feel a little less worse about my uselessness around the house.

I’m back at work, and it’s going well. So I’m contributing to the household a bit more, and feeling a bit more confident in myself.

All things that I do not think I would have achieved by myself. Maybe I would, who knows? No way to find out.

But I do know this. The support, the encouragement, the listening ear, the pep talks from my husband went a long, LONG way to getting me to where I am today.

My GP, my psychologist, my psychiatrist have all commented about what an amazing support he is. I sometimes think my psychiatrist likes to see my husband more than me! Haha!

But seriously, it’s a hard gig when you suddenly have someone on your hands who’s mood is liable to change before you’ve even got a hang of the last mood! In fact

Who is useless with deep depression, sleeping, eating and not showering; who is bouncing off the roof with boundless energy and babbling at 100 mph with mania; who has weird turns of suspicion and paranoia about how the partner is out to get them! This one gets my hubby the most, and afterwards I can completely understand why! After all he has done for me, which is unable to be actually counted up because it’s so vast, for me to turn and say he’s out to get me? That goes like a knife to the heart. Of course it’s not something I even feel, let alone would say on any normal day, but this paranoia has really shown me again who’s boss in my brain, and it isn’t always me!

I’m sure the same applies to many other situations. The question of ‘what would I do without them’? I have another example. A paraplegic man, twice the size and weight of his mother who has cared for him, to the detriment of her physical health, for 40 years!!

How can you thank them enough? How can you ever repay them? How can you ever begin to even out the balance of power?

They don’t ask for thanks, or repayment, and they don’t even consider the balance of power. They just give, and give, and give. What can we do to make it up to them?

I don’t know the answer, but for me it feels like the repayment is getting better and staying better, and getting back to doing my fair share, and giving him a break. How about that? Let’s give that a go.

Of course I’m a lucky one. Not all people can get better. I don’t know the answer in these cases. Maybe it’s one of those challenging things in life that you somehow have to eventually make peace with. Of course I can’t make myself better for life, it will recur at some point, but I can do as much as I can when I can, I guess.

At this point I remember all of the people going it alone.

I feel for you! I don’t say that because you are alone you can’t do it. I think you can. I think maybe you are stronger because you lean on yourself, not anyone else. But I wish that for a little while I could give you the relief of someone to lean on, someone to do the things you feel you can’t, someone to give you a break.

So partners.

Thank them today.

They are amazing, their role in improving our health is immeasurable, and most of all they do it out of love and don’t begrudge us the effort and time and strength that it costs them.

I can only aspire to be such a selfless, loving, caring, forgiving, understanding, giving and undemanding person towards others! Well that list certainly gives me a lot to work on!

Departure lounge

This week was always going to be a week of goodbyes.

After my sister’s wedding last week (photos to follow!!) my cousin, one of the bridesmaids, flew out to France for an open dated holiday in her favourite country on earth. Having been there before and having good French language skills, she is planning to spend this holiday off the beaten track. We’ll miss her at our weekly gathering point, Grandma’s fabulous Sunday lunch roast and dessert! More for us!

Then of course, my newlywed baby sister and her hubby are flying back to Latvia today! I say back because that’s where he was born and grew up. Their plan is to be there for 4 years because they are both planning to start and finish their undergraduate degrees there. So It’s a big goodbye!

I don’t think that any one of us has grasped it yet, especially Dad who wonders why everyone is asking him if he’s sad to see her go! Not much to wonder at, but he’s fixed himself in the mindset that its exciting and happy to see her marry her love and move off into their new life. We’ll see how long that lasts once she has actually gotten on the plane for 4 years!

Of course the two students may scrape together enough money to come back to Australia, and most of us are planning a visit at some point but it’s still a long time. Mum and Dad and her have been the only ones at home since my brother moved to Melbourne for uni 3.5 years ago, so I think they’ll really notice her absence around the house.

Then my teacher brother-in-law is flying to England for a year on Thursday! How’s that, sister and brother-in-law, plus brother-in-law, flying out in the same week! It makes more sense when you know that the school year starts on the 1st September across the UK and Europe. So for a teacher, and two students, it makes sense to move with a few weeks grace to get settled into accommodation etc. A year isn’t so bad, there’s an end point to look forward to. But it’s so hard to imagine his Mum and Dad without him. He’s also the youngest and it’s been the three of them since his older brother moved away to do his apprenticeship YEARS ago. Not sure how many, but it could be eight or so years. They’ll definitely be looking for him around the house!

So those are the scheduled departures. We’ve had the goodbye parties, given them advice, wished them farewell. Everything according to plan and tradition, and everyone has had their part in it.

I want to add one more departure to the list.

This was not a scheduled departure. There was no celebration beforehand where people got together with the person leaving and shook their hand and talked and laughed and got their fill of the person departing that would tide them over til they next met. No advice was given about the next step of the journey about to be traveled by the departing and how to traverse it.

I think that most people involved felt that this was a tragic departure, in the literary sense that tragic means inevitable.

I want to wish my own farewell to RT who departed his life this week. You know when someone starts a sentence and they haven’t finished yet, in fact they’re only in the middle but you know the end is going to be something you don’t like? That’s how I heard about it. There is no other way to hear it, other than someone telling you but the hearing of it is never easy.

Many months of a terrible depression preceded this departure, I heard. A mighty, mighty battle has taken place. That battle involved good friends doing their best, multiple inpatient psychiatric admissions, previous suicide attempts, medications, and more that I don’t know about.

In fact I don’t know this person, only in passing. I would recognise him on the street, we’ve maybe exchanged a dozen words in total in our lifetimes. Every year while I was growing up we would spend 3 Saturdays in October at a farm where our annual Christian convention was held, getting it all ready. Our family was always there, he and his wife were always there. They were the cool, young couple that girls growing up through their teens can admire. That was the full extent of “knowing” him.

But there is this phenomenon I’ve heard spoken about where people can experience grief for someone they don’t know, or have barely met, or celebrities etc that is disproportionate to their relationship with that person. Sometimes it can be as profound and take as emotional a toll as the death of a family member. Like when the news of Elvis having left the building descended on the world. Tears and sobbing from people who “knew” him from a concert, a tape, magazines. It’s valid.

I don’t think that’s what is happening here. I think what is happening is several months ago a mutual acquaintance described to me the suffering this person was experiencing as a result of depression. And it resonated with me very strongly because of my experience with depression. I had amazing support and all the help that I could possible require and there were days when I didn’t think I could survive.

As far as I heard, this person had no one at home, some friends around town and family nowhere near by. I could totally connect with his deep need for support and love and care, and the absence of these needs being met. No amount of psychiatric care can compensate for having a partner, family member, very close friend who “gets” you, who understands your suffering, who can be there for you to help you keep safe, who feeds you with love and care and hope, and reminds you again and again that you can fight this war to a victory and they will help you all the way.

His story just made me want to reach out and say, I feel for you, I’ve been where you’ve been and I know how awful and hard and dark and hopeless it is, and I want you to know that I came through and it is worth the fight. Or something like that.

That’s what I wanted to say. But after his wife left, his whole world crumbled, he had nothing to live for on this earth. Because I think kind honesty is the best way to support someone, I don’t know that I would have been able to say convincingly that it’s all worth it in the end, keep fighting, one day this will be all behind you and be a distant bad dream and you’ll be glad that you fought and won.

When you have nothing to live for on earth, it’s a very hard situation. I had everything to live for, and it was a hard, uphill, difficult road, and still may be in the future. But with nothing to live for, why would you try? Why would you fight for, scrabble for grip to, desperately cling to, and give your all to hang onto life? What for? Giving everything to hold onto life that doesn’t feel worth living, that holds searing pain, awful agony, sorrow, struggle, being alone, without love etc. All that terribly difficult effort while drowning in molasses, and what for? That’s what being suicidal is like.

And so he left us. It was inevitable. It’s sad, because nothing more could be done to hold him here on earth, because he couldn’t find enough to hold him to life. But I strongly feel that now he has peace and rest from so much awfulness. And how blissful will that peace and rest be, after so much difficulty on earth.

I have more thing to say. I believe in God, in Jesus, in eternal life. I’ll write about this point more one day. God’s commandments in the Old Testament were, thou shalt not kill. And I think that would have included ourselves. But the New Testament came in Jesus who has showed his great love and mercy. I believe that although we would want to help someone not to end their ow life, when someone is hurting so much that they can’t handle it anymore, Jesus understands and forgives. He knows what we have gone through and why we have reached such a point of desperation. He offers his help and grace in our lifetime, which is promised to be sufficient for us, but in our agony we can’t see much beyond our hurting self.

I feel that our mental health and our spiritual health are two disparate things. But they get confused. We don’t confuse our physical health with religion. We don’t expect our faith to help our gout. But our mental health has foggier borders. Our religion can be a help to us in all situations, but it’s not a cure for any illness, and depression isn’t a religious issue; it’s a medical issue.

I say this just to make the point that when someone we know hits the threshold of what they can possibly bear and can no longer suffer their daily life, let’s recognise that they have succumbed to a medical condition that was unable to be sufficiently treated with the medications and therapy that we have available these days. Let us never consider that their faith wasn’t enough, or they lost their religion, or they somehow should have found a way to survive. Suicide isn’t a comment on the sufferers ability, but the disease’s severity.

Farewell, fierce fighter. I recognise how much you fought, and I’m sorry that the disease was too strong for you. You will be missed. But I will remember your story. I won’t forget your bravery.

To all of you in this post, til we meet again.

Friends

“At the end of the day

Some you win, some you don’t

So I’m glad that I’m here
With some friends that I know
Always there with a smile
Saying you’re not alone
Singing la la la la
Que sera”

-Justice Crew

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1E30IQIPk8

One of the most important things to me over the last few months has been good friends.

Friends who understand what I’m going through from their own experience with anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder.

Friends who understand what I’m going through from their experience with family members or close friends who they have supported in the past.

Friends who have worked with patients suffering from mental illness.

Friends who don’t understand the experience, but listen and learn and are there for me.

Friends who help in whatever way I need help.

Friends who call, message, email, who send thoughts and gifts,who love and visit.

Friends who are kind, compassionate and supportive.

Friends who let me know that I’m not alone, that there’s always someone I can turn to, and someone that I can talk to.

Friends that have always been there, friends that have become close friends, friends who had drifted away but made the effort to reconnect, new friends that I didn’t know I had.

You may be near, you may be far, but you have touched my heart.

I may not have taken up the opportunity of calling you for a chat, of visiting you for cuddles, of staying with you for a while, of catching up for coffee and chatting with you over text, messenger or phone.

But don’t ever think that your offer was wasted; it means the world to me, and keeps me going through difficult days. And it’s still with me in my heart and mind; I may still call on you some day.

sealions, Galapagos Islands, beach,

Beautiful sealion friends hanging out together on a beach in the Galapagos Islands

The meaning of ‘que sera’ is what will be, will be. It’s good to know that I’m not alone, whatever happens; it gives me courage and strength to know you are out there, giving me your support.

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”

– A A Milne

A fabulous quote!

The words ‘You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think’ were given to me by a few people early on in my illness, and I’ve appreciated them ever since.

It’s always good for me to think about these words. It’s easy to forget our capabilities when we’re confronted with our weaknesses but good friends help us to remember.

Even when they’re not nearby they can help us, just with their few kind words.

I’m the most fortunate girl in the world in that I met my husband when I was young and he became my best friend years before we were ever married.

Having such a great friend with me all through the journey has been such a comfort and help to me. Everybody should know how it feels to have such a great friend.

I sometimes feel guilty that by putting my battles into the public sphere I have gotten such a huge amount of support that other people silently battling on alone have not had. I didn’t publish my issues for that reason, but it has been a beautiful side effect.

So please, for my sake, remember the others, all those quietly struggling and pushing through their hard days without the support of so many wonderful people.

I have come to realise from so many people contacting me to express their empathy that there are so many people fighting this all too common battle in one way or another.

9 times out of 10 it is the person you least expect, the bubbly, bright, always laughing, always smiling, friendly, outgoing, sociable person who is most affected. I don’t know why it is this way, or what came first, the personality or the mental illness. But it may not be who you expect.

So be courageous: ask your friends “are you okay?” and listen to their actions, their body language and their words. You may not know what to do, but the sheer action of asking, and then listening is mostly what will mean the world to someone, and help them in their time of need.

I read a powerful quote in a meme somewhere on Facebook that I have found to be so true:

“Smile, it’s easier than explaining what’s wrong”

-iliketoquote.com

I still find this to be true with some people, and similarly it’s so much easier to answer “fine” when asked a cursory “how’re you going?”. This customary greeting is often not really the place for deep and meaningful answers, so we need to find another time and place to give people a chance to properly answer.

Taking the time to give the full answer is emotionally and time consuming, and not everyone wants the full answer. Nor do they have to, so being selective can save time, hurt and emotional energy.

But I’m glad for good friends who have the time, and have the interest to really ask and really listen. Not every day, or every occasion but from time to time it’s nice to feel listened-to and valued.

bright colours, macaws, south america, peru, amazon

Good friends standing side by side – Macaws, Amazon rainforest, Peru, South America

Silent support should never be underestimated, either. Sometimes words just aren’t enough and just having someone near, or knowing they have your back is a very powerful help. Even from far away, just knowing people are thinking of you and rooting for you is a great encouragement.

You don’t know how amazing you are. You don’t know how important you already are, and how vital you could be to someone. You might never know it, but you will be a great help just by doing what you do, caring like you do and being there for others.

Go you!!

And most of all, THANK YOU!!!