Exams

I don’t know how many times I’ve had this dream, or something like it. It’s 5.30pm on Saturday afternoon. My final Year 12 exam starts in 3 hours and I’m absolutely not ready. Why an exam is scheduled for 8.30pm on a Saturday is never made very clear to me! I don’t have a cheat sheet ready, I haven’t studied all semester, I know nothing and I’m in a despairing panic. Or I’m in the last class of the term doing trial exams and unable to answer a single question. Or I’m studying at home and don’t even know where to start. Or I’m in a group study session and the others know everything and I’m absolutely lost, up the creek without a paddle! The subject of the exam is never one that you can cram overnight like biology or history; it’s always physics, maths, or chemistry where you have to understand the equations and be able to manipulate them in the exam to show your understanding. Or lack thereof in this case. There is no way that I can shove enough knowledge into my brain in time to pull it back out again in time for the exam. In other words, I’m doomed! Can you imagine the panic, stress, anxiety, despair, terror, the feeling of utter failure and of the future being bleak? In the middle of the night in my sleep it’s very real and very upsetting! Wishing I’d done better, afraid of the moment my teachers find out I’ve failed them, fearing my peers finding out I’m dumb and incompetent. Cheery stuff!

The thing is, I passed my Year 12 exams. I received my Victorian Certificate of Education in 2005. I did well in fact. I was in the top 10 of my year level, number 6 I think. I achieved 94.55 out of 99.99. This isn’t a brag. It’s an attempt to make my brain remember that actually I have finished this part of my life, and finished it well. I no longer need to fret, stress, despair, panic, etc about facing exams. I mean for goodness sake, it’s 11 years since Year 12! It’s 7 years since I finished my Bachelor of Pharmacy, a lot less academically brilliantly but still. Those years are done, finished; there’s nothing that can be done to change any of it. I can’t go back and do it again. And after all I did those exams and passed them. But these dreams, largely about Year 12 exams, persist! And it’s tiring to spend so much emotion in my sleep during the night on a situation that would never occur to me to think about during the day. But during the night, my brain can’t rationalise. It’s susceptible to the strangest things. And never more so than since I’ve been on antidepressants. Prior to starting antidepressants in mid 2013 I may have had this dream, but I can’t remember. I never dreamed that much and I remembered even less of what I did dream. I’d wake up and any dream would rapidly fade and become a vague thought, or just drift away. But then.

SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are the first class of antidepressant that you get to know if you experience your own battle with anxiety, or depression. They are the first line of treatment. Lexapro, Prozac and Zoloft are some brand names you may have heard of. I prefer the generic names because they never change: escitalopram, fluoxetine, sertraline plus paroxetine, citalopram and fluvoxamine. These medications can have a side effect of strange, or even frightening dreams or nightmares (NPS), otherwise described in some places as vivid dreams. Can, being the operative word. They don’t occur in all people, or all the time. I seem to go through phases then have a break for a while, then another series. I was amused at the beginning. I had these super realistic dreams of utter nonsense that were really quite entertaining. I just wished I could have hit the video button and recorded them; I’m sure my name would have gone down in history along with the famous movie directors. I could never write them down quick enough and in enough detail to really proper capture them; quite a shame. But then I started getting variations on this exam panic and it’s not anywhere near amusing; it’s very stressful and I wake up next morning entirely exhausted, as if I’ve hardly slept! It’s draining. And to what end? My psychiatrist doesn’t believe in finding the meaning in dreams, neither did my psychologist, nor does my GP. Rationally I know that dreams are just my subconscious processing data. But sometimes I’d just like a reason why I’m fighting with these emotions during the night. I mean I know why, in that it’s because of the medication. But why this kind of dream, why this stress about failing?

So. What to do about it? In my case, not a lot right now. I’m on an SSRI plus 3 mood stabilisers. Theoretically for bipolar patients, the antidepressant is no longer necessary once the mood stabilisers are in place. Theoretically. So in order to get rid of the dreams, and the sweating, my psychiatrist started slowly weaning my high dose of antidepressant. We got down to 375mg from 525mg, but when we went to 300mg, things started falling apart. It wasn’t worth it so we went back to the last dose that worked. We might try it again later, especially now that one of my mood stabilisers has been bumped up. But it’s a balancing act. Sometimes you have to accept some side effects for an otherwise good healthy life. That’s just reality.

In the meantime, my energy is going to trying to wake myself up out of these dreams and remind myself that although I did have some close calls with studying at the last minute during my university years, that’s long gone! It’s in the past and it needn’t bother me anymore. What’s weird is that it was my years at uni when I was less studious, but the dreams are always about high school. I guess that’s just proof that this is an irrational thing, and to just let it go as much as possible, let it pass, let it slide. Breathe in, 2, 3, 4, out, 2, 3, 4. Ahhh.

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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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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!