34 hours

I do love me an obscure heading but this one defines itself pretty quickly.

A recap: I started this job, as you know, in a casual position working in the dispensary at Epworth Richmond way back on August 30th 2017. Can you believe that it’s been 5 and a bit months that I’ve been here? It’s an absolutely essential role, yes, but one that I would be happy not to have to fill very much ever again for the remainder of my career. I don’t have anything against working in the dispensary, but I’ve been a clinical pharmacist on the wards since 2010, and being back in the dispensary had me feeling a bit boxed in! In fact I’ve been a clinical pharmacist in heart since my first hospital placement at the Austin hospital with the wonderful Grace in 2008, but that’s kind of beside the point, I guess. I loved working in the dispensary for the social side; there are some great people working dispensary. One of the things I never expected I’d miss when I left work was the social side of it, always having been a pretty independent worker. But you miss the chit chat when you’re home alone all day! I’m afraid its made me a bit of a chatter box now, and probably one of those annoying sharers of inane stories, but I’m just excited to be having a conversation with someone other than myself. This is ironic to myself because of one such annoying girl that I used to hardly be able to stand back in the day; full circle, around we come!

So I jumped, almost literally jumped, at the chance to switch lanes back to a clinical role in the emergency department when I heard about an opportunity. I interviewed for the spot on September 13th and started working with my new boss (love her!!) on the 25th. Going part time rather than purely casual was definitely a bonus, but I kept the casual position going since the part time gig is only 19 hours per week. I say only, at the beginning that was as much as I wanted, and putting on one other shift was all I could imagine. I’ve done several casual dispensary shifts in the months following at Richmond, and now also at Epworth Eastern (Box Hill) for some diversity, and because it takes 5 minutes walk to get there! It’s good money, being casual, especially if they’re shorter shifts that don’t take as much out of me physically, but I’ve learnt not to take on 2 days in a row standing up, or accept the dreaded 5 to 10pm dispensary shift at Richmond because all catastrophe breaks loose after 9pm! I don’t know what happens to hospital workers after dark, but it’s not good. Everyone gives you attitude, demands the impossible, gives you grief over everything, sends you ridiculous requests and it’s just generally chaotic. Plus the 5 to 10pm shift is usually paired with an 8am start next day and two of those combo shifts were enough! For most people its no big deal, but I can’t hack that turn around, I can’t handle my sleep being messed with; it’s just not worth it. Goodbye 10pm finishes, goodbye stand-all-day shifts day after day. That’s the beauty of being casual, you pick and choose whatever shifts work for you, so I keep being told. It’s taken me a good long while to get this through my head. I’m much more of the accepting-all-requests personality. But in the end, if it wears you down, if it affects your sleep, or your health then you have to make the tough call and say no, however much your personality yells, just this once, it’ll be okay, just say yes. I’m still bad at it, I’m always tempted to accept more than I know I should when that voice is asking me down the phone…but I have to remind myself to look after me first. The selfish choice, the reserve-your-super-powers-for-another-day choice. It’s hard to explain, its hard to do but you just have to.

Ever since I’ve been returning to work after that whole breakdown thing (Box Hill public hospital, Priceline Boronia and now at Epworth private), being on my feet has been the major rate-limiting step of each and every day. I keep hoping its going away, but its not. The old plantar fasciitis in my right heel just keeps on shooting up through my heel; the extra 40 kilograms I’m carrying is weighing down through my ankles contributing to the general ache I guess, I cannot seem to pick a good pair of work shoes to save myself it so heel blisters come and go and come and go, and getting a pair of sockettes that don’t fall down or bunch or cut in at the seams is another nightmare, and so we go on day to day, seeing if I can survive the amount of standing and walking that the day demands.  Sometimes I really barely can get those last steps to home, and I mean this literally. Stumbling up the drive in pain with blisters roaring, heel stabbing, desperate to get off my feet and get them legs horizontal! On standing-all-day days, my main strategy is shifting from foot to foot, walking whenever I can including extra “toilet” breaks, and more to the point, sitting at every single possible imaginable opportunity, sometimes ludicrously. All while trying to ensure no one realises what’s going on, because, like, you wouldn’t want to anyone to think you were weak, would you?!? Wretched pride. I’ll happily divulge my mental illness once I’ve known someone a short while, but pity help them finding out I can’t do the job physically! Sheesh, what a weirdo!! So I grit and grit and take every break I can squeeze and push on, but I do not relish those days when I know I’ll be standing all day, which are the days I spend on dispensary duty. At this point a saying comes to mind: “push through the barriers”. It’s been said to me, but if you only knew how much I push on through every work shift, how it drains me, how I die inside a bit…, believe me, I’m pushing on. Remember when I used to lay in bed all day? I daydream some days that I’m back there, mostly when I’ve been standing at the same bench for an hour. Ah, to be lying down with my legs up!

It’s getting easier now, in one sense, and harder in another. It’s getting easier to knock back the dispensary shifts because I am now getting offered clinical shifts on the wards!! Yeah baby!! The ED thing is a dream come true, and this is pretty close behind! So now that I’ve done some training I can formally back fill and cover the medical ward and kids ward for any pharmacist’s annual leave or sick leave. And at the moment, I’m doing some filling in for my boss who is acting director of pharmacy. Yippee! More clinical work, fuller calendar, less dispensary availability…that is apart from the shifts that I agreed to before this came up, but its all good; I’ll manage them as they come and then let them be bygones.

Which brings us to 34 hours. For THE first time since I walked out on my excellent fulfilling cutting edge full time job at the Alfred in mental health crisis in March 2014, I worked almost a full pharmacy week, which is 40 hours in public hospital; it’s actually less in private hospital but this has always been the goal in my mind. I worked 34 hours the week starting Monday 15th January and I’m thrilled! In my mind it brings me full circle to where I left off, and I have to admit two things: 1) that this has been a major goal in my mind, and 2) that I really did think it would never happen again in my lifetime; that I’d never be well enough ever again. You can sense the satisfaction, surely! I did it! I got back there! I came full circle and ticked a box that I felt doomed never to achieve, and it feels really good. Of course it’s not just the hours worked. It’s the work itself: feeling like I’m back to being useful, back to being the standard of pharmacist I was then (which I’m not fully, but the point is I’m on my way), that I’m back to being a functioning member of the workforce. I don’t know why being a useful home keeper never felt enough in my mind. I think its all about feeling torn from a place and occupation I loved, and the idealisation of that place and occupation as the ultimate indicator of success in bringing this mental illness beast under control and in subjection. Of course its folly to think its ever totally in control and subjection, but I dream! My GP so wisely pointed out that I am not to be doing it to make the point; that’s not a healthy perspective, and I think I’d realised that shortly before he said it. I did it, I ticked something in my mind, but that’s it now; there’s nothing more to prove. I proved it to myself, that’s all I ever needed, so now settle back and enjoy the work and the hours for their own sake, without any pressure to meet a target that in the end is pretty meaningless really.

Do you know what I think the most powerful balm is in all of this? Every shift I work on the wards or in ED beyond my part time hours, is filling in for someone either on leave or pulled somewhere else. I’m filling a role that were I not there, would not be filled. Excuse the false terminology but its the hero complex; the idea that were I not there, things would be worse, so I’m being so very useful. That can’t help but stroke the ego and I’m as vain as the next person, I suppose. Because I got out of bed and went to work instead of the opposite, I can do some good for a patient; it’s a powerful motivator on the reluctant mornings.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

  • Week starting 15th Jan: 34 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 2 full day shifts, one shadowing the pharmacist rostered to the medical and paediatric wards, and one working side by side
  • Week starting 22nd Jan: 22.5 hours being my usual Monday only (1 public holiday Friday and 1 annual leave Saturday), and 2 full day extra shifts working the medical/paediatric wards
  • Week starting 29th Jan: 29 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 2 half day extra shifts in ED
  • Week starting 5th Feb: 31.5 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 1 extra full shift in ED and medical/paediatric combined, and 1 extra half shift in medical/paediatric
  • Week starting 12th Feb: 32.5 hours being my usual 19 hours plus 1 full day and 1 part day in the Epworth Eastern dispensary

 

I can hardly believe the numbers myself but they don’t lie. As for how it went, it’s taken me too many words and too much time getting this far, so the how can wait for the next edition. See you then!

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…