I did a bad thing…

I did a bad thing.

I got sick, and then I started getting better, then I stopped. I didn’t get better. I just stopped.

I’m in illness limbo. I’m much better than I was when I was severely unwell, but much worse than I was “before”, before I ever got sick. Well okay, maybe not much worse, but worse. I’m not going forwards, I’m not going back. I’m not bad enough to complain to my doctors, but I’m not where I thought I’d be, back to “normal”.

It’s been a long time now since I got sick, and I’m definitely well over the acute phase of crippling anxiety, black depression and the odd weirdly happy and effective days of mania.

I was just commenting yesterday that I never have dysfunctional anxiety anymore; just regular, everyday person anxieties that are reasonable and well founded and manageable. But I was wrong. At that very moment it was sneaking up on me again and bam! it got me!! But only a bit dysfunctional. I don’t have the darkness and hopelessness of depression, just the sluggishness and lack of motivation and tiredness…but even that waxes and wanes giving me better days and worse days due to no particular reason. Mania continues to be a little brightness on the horizon that breaks through any residual depressive effects and gives me a little happy and useful and wish-I-was-like-this-all-the-time day or so, here or there!

I’m medicated like you wouldn’t believe, and a recent experiment my psychiatrist and I tried of reducing my meds has shown me very clearly that without these meds, I’d be right back in the thick of my acutely unwell stage!! It’s not like they aren’t working; they are, they really are! My moods have been a very difficult case to crack and it has taken 4 medications for mood and months to years of appointments to get on top of the main symptoms. And they work. I can, somewhat distantly now cos it’s been a while for some, remember how I was before and after starting each one, which may just be my saving grace down the track when I, like every bipolar patient, get to the stage where I think I might just be better off not taking my meds. One request of you, friend: don’t be the person who suggests I should go off my meds. The consequences of taking on that responsibility may well be more than you can bear. You take my life in your hands if you suggest any such thing. For all I complain about where I am, I always know very clearly that I would be so much worse off without my meds. No question. Ever. Life isn’t perfect but taking away the crutch holding me up isn’t going to help. So save it, keep it, sit on it, hold it in, swallow it; you are not helping anyone, almost ever, by making any such suggestion. You are warned.

But here we are. I’m not sick, but I’m not as well as I thought I’d be. As I hoped I’d be, planned I’d be, “knew” I’d be. Isn’t this the dilemma of every patient with a chronic illness? I go to the doctor with my illness, the doctor says okay I’ll treat your illness, I hear “I’ll get you back to normal”, and go on my way happily ever after. I think I’m presenting the doctor with a chest infection that he can fix, and then return me to my previous health. But this is not a curable disease. The treatment works, the doctor says I’ve treated your illness, I look forward to getting back to being me, my old self, and then, as the Goons would say…suddenly, nothing happened!! Yes the treatment worked. Yes the doctor has done his job. But this illness doesn’t go away. Because that’s not how it works. The illness stays. The treatment stays. The illness has just been put back to bed for a while. But there are some residual effects that haven’t been buried and they remain and irritate me. Because that’s how it works. I don’t know what it would take to get every last little bit of it under the surface…I don’t think I want to know because it either isn’t possible, or the trade off would be too severe.

I’m starting to think “normal” isn’t a reality that I’ll ever reach again. I’m starting to think that my life has been permanently changed. I’m starting to think I’m stuck here.

I don’t know.

All I know is I’m here, and everyone seems to want me to get fitter, healthier, stronger, slimmer or shall we shall less large (keeping it to reachable goals), more energetic, more involved in my own life, more something or other. And don’t mistake me, I want that too. I want it all. It’s just that I can’t see how. I can’t see how to get there. Some people say, well you made it this far through, I’m sure you can do it. But my little/big secret is, all I did so far was hang on. Through all of it, I didn’t really do anything that active; I just hung on. Now the goals require something more active and I don’t know if I can do it. I’m not sure that I can do what’s required. I guess that’s why I’ve stalled here. The next step possibly requires more than I can give.

Aaaaahhhh. Sigh. I did something bad. I stopped getting better. Can I start again?

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Recovery

 

“You will get there when you are meant to get there and not one moment sooner. So relax, breathe, and be patient.” -unknown

 

Last Wednesday was an interesting day for me.

Another new start, another new pursuit, another new hobby, another new lifestyle angle.

I began a new journey, a new pathway towards I don’t know what exactly. I participated in my very first formal mindfulness class.

When I was in my first year of university and had my first panic attack, I went to see the campus counsellor. She was a really sweet lady and helped me through some difficulties, frustrations, emotional strain and odds and ends in our one-on-one sessions. She also got me involved in a lunchtime class where we tried meditation and mindfulness as stress reduction methods.

I don’t have a very clear memory of that time; I had a lot going on I guess. But I do remember one mindfulness exercise that we did with a mandarin and I’ve gone back to that a few times over the years since then.

This year and last year while I’ve been seeing a psychologist pretty frequently the idea of mindfulness has come up briefly a few times and the last time I was able to borrow a mindfulness CD from my counsellor by well known Dr Craig Hassad, lecturer at Monash University. That was a good reminder of what mindfulness is and how it can be used.

So now I’m doing this class for two and a half hours every Wednesday for eight weeks. So far, I’m very happy. The lovely group leader is a practical, kind lady who has made me feel very at home and the other members of the group all seem like they are very nice as well. I was a bit worried that it might be really alternative and other worldy, like rituals and incence and weird stuff; but thankfully its all very normal and logical and helpful.

We arrived on a freezing cold morning to a delightful old church done over for other uses. Not only was the heating on high but we were able to help ourselves to lovely fleece blankets that had been warming in front on one heater to keep ourselves soft and cozy! Plus cushions and pillows; how lovely! Off to a good start!

What I’ve been thinking about most is not the course so much, but how I introduced myself to the other ladies; no men in this particular course. My introduction of myself was that over the last year or so I’ve been progressively diagnosed with anxiety disorder, depression and now bipolar disorder. I told the other ladies that I’m now in the recovery phase of resting, starting medications, having doses changed and getting used to medicines.

Recovery phase.

Interesting.

When I got home that day I thought about that a bit more. And realised something. I tell other people that I’m in the recovery phase; resting, medications etc but I don’t let my brain get that memo. I’m telling myself a whole other message, which is hurry up and get your stuff together because your life is waiting for you and it won’t wait much longer!

See? A whole other message!! And quite a lot more stressful! So time to help myself out.

Danika, you are in the recovery phase.You can rest, you can allow time the healer of all things to have its place to work. You can allow medications to take their effect, you can attend your appointments with your doctor, psychiatrist and psychologist. You can go to your photography course, your mindfulness course, to free meditation class, on bird watching walks, on interesting day trips and excursions. You can take naps when you need them, rest when you are tired, socialise if you have the energy.

Can you take five minutes to realise how amazing this is? You have free rein to do whatever you feel like to help yourself and heal yourself!

Don’t think about how you can’t do everything that you want to, don’t worry about your limitations, don’t get put off by tiredness or weakness or feebleness. You can do whatever you feel like and are up to with whatever resources you have. That is amazing!

And make a new attempt at perspective, please. You have been on six different antidepressants on less than a year, each one taking a month to six weeks to show its full effect then needing to be washed out and a new one started. You have been on varying doses of a mood stabiliser since March and each dose or formulation change had its own issues. Remember that you started lithium not even eight weeks ago, and that the last dose change was just three weeks ago!

Three weeks. That’s not forever ago, you aren’t taking forever to get better, please remember that you are still taking step after step and every change takes some kind of toll, so you need time to roll through each new wave of turbulence.

 

 Don’t even think about work.

 

Those are the words from the psychologist provided with my insurance.

 

Don’t even think about it. Just relax, take it easy, take your time, get yourself better.

 

At my last psychiatrist visit we checked in again about my colossal weight gain and high cholesterol. He’s still thinking about putting me on a cholesterol lowering drug.

 

Its pointless trying to diet and exercise right now with all the changes in medication. You aren’t going to be able to do much about it until we get you stable.

 

Stable. We aren’t there yet. You are still in the figuring out what’s what and getting everything straightened out stage. You’re still adjusting to having this condition, and having to take medication twice every day and having to take life at a different pace.

But as always, instead of taking the psychiatrist’s words face value, I debated with myself and am still debating whether using that information is a cop out, and maybe I can do more about it than I think, and maybe I’m just being lazy and not trying etc. Typical!

But no, rest, relax, take advantage of this amazing time that you have. You’re young, you have time to fix your cholesterol, time to fix your weight, it doesn’t have to happen three weeks after changing doses of lithium! Sure, if you have the emotional and physical energy you can small changes now, but let’s resolve to postpone the big changes until 2015!

You’re in the recovery phase. You’re only job right now, is to recover. So off you go, recover. Rest, relax, enjoy, feast on this unexpected piece of time that’s been given to you, make the most of having very few responsibilities and hardly any “have to” claims on your time. Recovery.

Choices

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So here I am. Bright, beautiful autumn day, not quite 10am in the morning and I’m in the gorgeous Fitzroy Gardens wandering my way back to the city. What a fabulous way to pass the day!! And that’s right, not quite 10am and I’ve gotten out of bed, dressed, had breakfast, walked to the station, caught a train then a tram to an appointment and now I’m out the other side, carefree and almost dancing my way along. It’s a sweet happy day.

In my mind is always the question, is it a too happy day? Am I tipping the scale into the slightly manic?

Today, the answer is: I don’t really mind, I’m happy, it’s a good day and I’m out lapping it up 🙂

Why up so early? Two answers.

1) I’ve changed over antidepressants, again! I’m up to number 7 now, all within 12 months! 5 of them in the last 6 months! It’s been hectic up in my brain!! But to tell the truth, number 7 is actually a repeat of number 2 which I really liked and had to stop because of side effects. So I’m “cautiously optimistic” as my doctor would say, but keeping in mind that I may have to stop this one again. Which would be very disappointing cos so far I’m loving me with this drug in my system! It’s been all of 4 days but it’s made the most amazing difference! I now wake up at 5.30 – 6am like I used to when I was first starting antidepressants again in December.

Which is an incredible change from dragging myself out of a stupor at 9.30am to try to start the day, cutting out all non-essentials sometimes including showering and doing my hair. Now I’m up and ready to start the day with the normal people 🙂 And I still get a pretty solid sleep thanks to my mood stabilisers, although it is a bit more fragmented. But I’ll take that over being doped out!

2) I have a 9am sharp appointment with a private psychiatrist. So far I’ve only seen one psychiatrist, not sure if he was a fully fledged psychiatrist or one in training but I really like him either way. He was friendly, professional, asked questions no-one had asked before and got really quite a lot of information out of me.That was way back now, in early March, two days after I was sent to emergency suicidal and utterly despairing. That day that I saw the last psychiatrist was the day when I realised that the question mark over me having bipolar disorder did actually make a lot of sense. Because from acutely suicidal on Monday night, to that Wednesday midday was the biggest change you could possibly see in a person! By Wednesday morning I was happy, active, energetic, motivated, full of life and ready to go gangbusters!! It really was that dramatic and gave a lot of credence to that theory.

This visit is not at all acute, it’s really like an all over review of my treatment to date and making a plan into the future with the expertise of the specialist. I’m very happy and confident in my GP but a second opinion and eye on the situation never hurts. So yes, 9am sharp! Which a week ago would have been physically impossible but today it’s all good! Yay for that!

So, choices. I loved coming to this point in the path and having the options. Where to go?

I have been given choices in my treatment. Choices about where to next, about what’s tolerable and what’s not, about what’s important to me.

Given the choice between flat, unmotivated and doped out or somewhat anxious and a bit zingy I chose pumped up. So I know I have to take the lesser quality sleep, shaking hands and faint but persistent feeling of something not quite right. It’s been a while, I must say I’d forgotten just what it was like to have my heart on full alert all day. That vague feeling of anxiety about anything and everything, but at least I’m functioning and out enjoying the day instead of thinking about dragging myself out of my slumber.

I chose anxious over depressed. Because I can handle anxiety. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for months now so I have the strategies, the coping techniques, the knowledge of triggers and stressors. So although it’s not what I’d chose given a choice between anxious and not anxious, it’s what I chose over depression.

Depression I can’t handle. I don’t like it, I don’t like me in it, I can’t manage it away. Strategies seem so unachievable, thinking differently is just too hard, mind over matter just isn’t a thing! The awfulness, the horridness, the terrible feelings are just unconquerable. All I want is to run away, escape, go into a time warp. That last one is my favourite. It doesn’t involve self harm or permanent damage or death or anything undoable; it’s just somewhere I can go for as long as it takes until the pain has gone away. So if there’s any option other than having to suffer through depression I take it!

In this case it’s anxiety. You’re back, old nemesis. But this time I’m running the show, I hold the reins, I control the degree and depth and frequency, as much as I can. I have my strategies, my re-thinking, my knowledge, my support, so much on my side.

It’s going to take some getting used to, it doesn’t sit well. I have to be aware of it, and not let it get started so that it can’t get out of control. At the same time it’s important not to get anxious about getting anxious. So back to all that. But the upside: not depressed, touch wood!!