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.

Victory Part Two

[20th June 2015]

Where was I?

Ah yes, bicycle, perfect timing, much enjoyed.

So this week was going to be epic! Until it rained, and rained, and rained. And spoilt my plans! I had my diary set: Tuesday ride from Strathmore, new one for me so that should be fun, Thursday repeat of an earlier ride from Maribyrnong to Williamstown, but hopefully no head wind on the way back this time and so a more enjoyable return! Then there was a ride on Saturday, to follow up our skills session with Bridie O’Donnell, along Beach Road for a road ride. That was a tentative. I haven’t done a road ride in years, and never in a bunch, and not since uni days, and was I really up for it? Definitely a query! In the end I read the updated description and it was for riders above my level so I let that one slide.

Tuesday I was up and at ‘em! This being the most recent morning after the night before when I missed my tablets! So I was firing on all cylinders! Chatty, energetic, ready to kill it on the ride! Etc! But it was cancelled. It wasn’t actually raining but it had been pouring with rain at 3am when I woke up for the day on a short amount of quetiapine-absent restless, fractured sleep! Our leader had been out to check the course and it was wet and slippery. And honestly, I’m having such a good time, and haven’t crashed since my chest infection-induced stupor in week 3 and I’d like to keep it that way. Don’t need any discouragement! So it was cancelled, but there’s always coffee and cake,Whee girls!! So I traipsed across town anyway for a good old catchup! And a divine cookie sandwich!!! I haven’t come across these till now, other than a Maxibon, but these are two yummy flaky bikkies with, in my case, vanilla bean cream in the middle! Very indulgent and just the best! Pin Oak Crescent, Flemington, people, opposite Newmarket Station! Wolf and Hound if I remember correctly! Worth the drive.

biscuit, latte, cafe

A Butterbing cookie sandwich and coffee at Wolf and Hound – not my coffee obviously

So that was all good, no ride for understandable reasons, and nothing could bring me down that day in any case, so a great day to bear with not getting to do what you hoped! When I say nothing could bring me down, I mean being too scatter brained to bring my phone charger, and my phone going flat from running GPS directed maps just as I got to the edge of my comfort zone and needed directions! But bipolar brain is super human and says, oh well, just drive up Flemington Road; you’re looking for an address in Flemington, you might get lucky! Well now we’re in Moonee Ponds so let’s turn around (not easy to accomplish!) and find a 7/11, surely they sell Melways. No you don’t? But I see a copy there, maybe I can just look up an address? Use your phone, are you sure, really I can look it up? Thanks, you’re a lifesaver, actually look it’s just nearby, 2 turns from here! Perfect, and I’m right on time! Thank you manic bipolar brain, you got through that mishap easy as pie. Of course, it is your fault about the charger…but everything else was great!

Cue Thursday. Restarted quetiapine on Tuesday night. There’s still some in my system, but miss a dose and boy, does the next dose feel like the first one! That first dose gives you the full side effect gammit: drowsiness like I’ve been dosed up with morphine, absolutely stupid after half an hour of taking it, cannot form words or walk anymore! Dry eyes makes them fully red which is just perfect for looking like a slurring, incoherent, stumbling lunatic if you happen to need the loo bad enough to get your eyes open and magically force yourself out of bed! Nose, eyes, mouth as dry as the desert, can’t pee or poop as much and boy is it hard to wake up the next day! Even if you wake it takes all morning for the sedation to wear off. Often I’ve just given up and gone back to bed at 9am, 10am, 11am. So Wednesday was not much of anything! In fact I sat in the same spot for the majority of the day once I finally got up at 11am to get breakfast. Think I did a load of laundry. Watched some Agents of Shield. Played Words with Friends. Ate lunch at 4pm. Tried to get my brain around our Wednesday bible study chapter. Started to think about dinner, then waited for my hubby to come home and make it. Bit of a washout day. But I knew that was coming, so yeah.

games, friends

Love this game! My husband isn’t such a fan, reckons I let him win so he’ll keep playing with me…so he stopped playing with me! Always happy to play with new people. This is one of the few activities that helps me feel like my brain isn’t rapidly shrinking!!

Thursday. Plan: repeat ride to Williamstown, without the head wind on the way back, if it please the Weather Bureau! 28 kilometres, gorgeous scenery, good friends, what more could we ask for? The forecast was 13 or something, but I have my neck gator, my head scarf, my new arm warmers, gloves, and a vest and coat to layer over my jersey, so no worries, plus I’m always warm on the inside! Despite the hangover effect, when my alarm went off at 8am I jumped right out of bed! Miraculous! Truly miraculous. The joy of the ride, the pleasure of good company, the scenic delights awaiting; my brain is on full anticipation mode, waiting for the lovely things the day will bring, which will in turn deliver to me those much lauded blessings of endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, etc. It’s the dopamine that has the upper hand if you ask me. Once I finally got to that place of enjoying in my riding, my dopaminergic system started its reward seeking behavior that drives addiction. There, I said it, my brain is starting a powerful connection between riding and good things, and it wants more!

I’d organized to car pool with a friend from the course, the first time Little Miss Independent has let someone else take the wheel and do the driving. A big moment of letting go the control, and making friends! So nice to be trusted to go to someone’s house, meet their family, share an experience together. I’ve always considered myself a bit awkward socially, a bit challenged at making friends and as a little kid especially this was true. I’ve had my own friends, my school friends, and work friends. But I’ve always had my own space, where no one else goes. I’m finding it’s different with riding, because you really share common experiences so we have something together that binds us, and no external person can really share in it because they weren’t there. It’s fascinating to me, to see how this works, and to be a part of it! We share our insecurities, our weaknesses, our doubts in a way probably none of us would fully own out loud in any other situation, and probably not with our partners or other friends. Because in this course it’s okay to be scared, to not know, to be worried. It’s ALWAYS okay to be how you really are and what you really feel and no judgement is even thought of, because this is a place of learning and building up skills and encouragement and doing it together. That’s why we love it!

boardwalk, pond, rushes, bike

One from the archives. Back when I could still fit into my wardrobe, barely, March 2014. Remember I told you my hubby took me for a ride and it wasn’t the best? This is it! A brave smile!

—RIDE CANCELLED— As I’m walking out the door, socks, runners, leggings, jersey, neck warmer, ear warmer, gloves, vest, coat, lights, ready to go to my friend’s house to car pool, my phone beeps. I’ve got my bag with helmet, bike computer, bike mechanic kit etc on my shoulder, I’ve grabbed breakfast, filled up my drink bottle, got the car keys in my hand, bike in the car…cancelled! Cancelled! Ohhhhh. Deflated! But I’m ready to go! But that was the last organized ride for the week that was at my level! But I’m up, and if it was any other day I’d be asleep til 10am while restarting quetiapine, but I’m up! I’m up! Okay, so it’s wet and slippery, but I’m up!

This is no criticism of Wheel Women ride organization! They do an amazing job many times each week, and absolutely made the right call! No disagreement. But I was up! And I wouldn’t be if it weren’t for the anticipation of friends and bike riding. Which is obviously a powerful thing, more than I would have ever expected from myself! So what now? Honestly I was flummoxed, wind taken out of my sails, left without purpose! So I sat down at the kitchen table, stared blankly at the wall and tried to think of what to do! Called my husband cos I was all out of ideas! Couldn’t think what to do next! It really had hit me for six, even though I always knew it was weather dependent. But I was going to go out and tackle that ride anyway, and do better. And now I wasn’t going anywhere! Huh!

blue sky, silver gulls, court house

A stunning Williamstown day on another ride

That was a great lesson to me, to find how much I depended on going riding, and expected to go, and could go the extra mile to get to the rendezvous point on time and all organized, because I wanted to go! Here are some powerful abilities that I can harness and use!

So, what to do? Actually I had a pretty flat day, which is so interesting to me, and something I can work on for next time for whatever disappointment inevitably comes. How can I response differently, better, not let myself get so deflated? I was still in a pretty soggy condition when my hubby got home so he set me to think up rides that I could do the next day. It was a great idea, but I parked it on the shelf. Right now though, I’m inspired so I’m going to try to do that, write a to-do list of bike rides for the future so that I always have a backup plan.

Inspired. Me, right now. Why? Its two days on from Thursday, and today I went and did that ride that was planned and cancelled with my husband, and it was great! The weather was cold but sunny, the scenery is always spectacular on that route and we had fun! Then we went and checked out the cyclocross race nearby and I got my fix of bikes and I’m feeling fine! Better than, in fact. It’s 10.48pm and I’m still tap tapping these ideas that were floating in my head while riding. Turns out riding really gives your head space to process ideas!

cars, blue sky, silver gull

Silver gull parade!! These ‘rats of the sea’ are standing guard waiting for the woman to finish her meal and hopefully leave some chips so they can all swoop in and grab the scraps

And that’s not the end of the victory parade.

The following Tuesday our ride was cancelled before the actual day. But I woke up that morning to a text from one of the lovely girls in our group asking if anyone wanted to do a replacement ride. What a genius, and what a great idea, and perfect for feeling like we haven’t missed out. Yes I did want to do a ride, so we met up really close to home and did an 18km ride together. It was a bit tougher than a lot of our other rides with a few challenging hills but we looked out for each other and I felt so satisfied by the time we got back. We had a nice coffee and cake at a cute new café, and I just loved it! Being independent, and able to tackle a decent ride on our own, and feeling like we’re capable and equipped; satisfaction! And it feels like a victory! I still want to do as many organized rides as I can, but what a feeling to be able to run our own ride if it falls through! Yay!!

So on Thursday, when the ride was ‘only’ 13km, we improvised and went the long way back to the cars together to draw the ride out to 24km. Imagine that! After such a slow, difficult start, I now feel a bit cheated if we don’t do 20km! I mention ‘only’ because the leaders would sometime say this to us, it’s only 6km, its only 13km etc. And I would think to myself, only, ONLY?? What are you talking about, only! I’m not at the only stage, every peddle stroke hurts. It was fascinating on Thursday because we rode the first ride we ever did to the bike store, which I thought would never end as I wheezed and sweating and burned my way along the ‘only’ 6km. And this time we got there in 10 minutes, before my legs had even warmed up, and suddenly we were there and I couldn’t believe how it didn’t hurt, or require much effort and we passed it like it was a kilometre from the car park!! That’s progress, and it’s so exciting!!

So tell me…?

Something that I’ve found out along this journey with me, my head and I is that questions are really important.

It was that question that has become an advocate for helping others with mental health concerns that first triggered my understanding of the need for questions; R U OK?

I’ve always been interested in mental health and I saw this group pushing people to understand and use the question R U Ok? to start talking to others about what’s going on, what’s wrong, what’s troubling you, what’re your concerns? I thought it was a great idea and I bookmarked it in my head to use someday if I saw someone having a hard time.

I wasn’t sure that it would be effective but I planned to give it a go anyway; nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

But then, before I had a chance to use it to help another person, someone asked me, and I burst into tears!! Just like that! That is how powerful the question is and how right on target it is to really hit the spot when someone is down, anxious, fearful, despairing etc.

I didn’t think it would work. But I walked into a doctor’s room to get some routine results, she asked ‘are you okay?’ and it turns out I wasn’t, to a severe degree which I had not even realised up until that moment.

When she said, ‘how are you?’, as I walked in the door I said fine. That question is just too automatic and we are too programmed into a standard response that doesn’t really give an answer. We know when we ask it that it’s more for form than for really enquiring into someone’s health. It has become a greeting more than a query. Not to say that it can’t be used as a question; some people can inject that something extra that shows that they genuinely are enquiring about your health, but usually that’s not the case.

But there is something unique, direct and unusual about the question ‘are you okay?’ that hits a nerve, that registers with a person as an actual question and that demonstrates some extra kind of care and interest on behalf of the asker.

Questions are so important in mental health.

We can’t lay open a wound, or show an obvious dislocation, or contusion, or register a positive blood culture, or low blood level as evidence of our condition.

We may not look ill, or sick, or injured to other people.

All the evidence of our ailment is locked inside our heads.

It is literally all in our minds, but not in the way that that saying is usually used, to suggest that it’s a figment of our imagination!

There is nothing imagined or exaggerated or fictitious about any mental illness.

However there is a level of difficulty for anyone treating a mental illness, be it doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, psycholgists, counsellors or any other health professionals.

To diagnose a mental illness, as with any other condition, a set of diagnostic criteria must be met. But none of those criteria are obvious when a patient walks in the door.

The diagnoser (doctor or psychiatrist) must be able to draw out the information that they need to make a diagnosis by asking questions. They need to ask a lot of questions. Questions designed to gather information, to confirm suspicions, to determine signs and symptoms of the condition.

They have to be very skilled in asking questions AND in listening to the answers for clues about what is going on with the patient.

It takes time! Sometimes a lot of time. Sometimes questions are asked over and over. There is a purpose to that; it is to gather the right information so that the right diagnosis is made and the right treatment given. It might seem repetitive but every question fills a useful part of the overall picture. It’s not a sign of incompetence on the part of the person asking the questions; its a part of their professional skill.

Patients most often don’t know what is going on with them. I’m a health professional with a clinical understanding of mental illness but I still didn’t recognise mental illness in myself. I just thought I was stressed at work. The fact that I was constantly obsessing over work all day and night, that I couldn’t sleep, that I was being clingy and petty and being a huge strain on my husband with my concerns and fears and anxiety didn’t occur to me to be an excessive reaction. So I can’t even imagine how patients with no prior knowledge of mental illness feel when they start to suffer from symptoms.

They might be scared, afraid, stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, confused, in denial or fearful of what the diagnosis will mean and what treatment will be prescribed. So the doctor also has to tread carefully around the person’s soft or sore spots but still trod and poke enough to get what they need to do their job.

In any emotional state a person has more difficulty remembering and recalling, trouble giving an accurate history, limited ability in listening and responding, and struggles with taking in information. This is one of the reasons why questions need to be repeated; to be sure that the right answer has been given. It’s also why seeing multiple doctors on different occasions can be useful in building a clearer picture of what is going on.

Often a patient may not be diagnosed immediately, because of these factors. It may be considered in the patient’s best interests to allow them time to go away and calm down, to give more thought to the history of symptoms that they have experienced, and then to bring them back and ask further questions. Of course it isn’t safe for all patients to be sent away; some need to be kept for their own safety, some need to have treatment started immediately. For those who are sent home to return late, maybe the same questions will be asked all over again, and although it seems tedious to the patient, it is all for the purpose of gathering as much information as possible so that the best outcome can be achieved for every patient.

So, questions.

Tell me what’s been going on?

How have you been feeling?

When did this start?

Who have you already seen about this?

What treatments have you tried?

Has anyone in your family experienced any mental illness?

How long have these symptoms been going on for?

How severe are your symptoms?

What symptom is the most difficult for you?

What has brought you here today?

How are you today?

Compared to then, how are you now?

What do you think has triggered these symptoms?

What has happened that might have caused this?

What do you know about your condition?

What do you know about the treatment for this condition?

What’s the worst symptom that you are experiencing?

How are you coping?

Are you experiencing any side effects?

Give me a run down on how the last week has been for you?

How often do you shower?

How often have you been getting out of the house?

Are you finding enjoyment in life?

How has your motivation been?

What have you been getting up to?

Have you been hearing or seeing things that don’t exist?

Has anyone been speaking to you through other objects?

Are you suicidal?

Have you had thoughts of harming yourself or others?

Do you have a plan to harm yourself?

Have you had suicidal thoughts?

Have you had thoughts that are frightening to you?

How has your sleep been?

Tell me what you are afraid of?

Do you ever have periods of great energy when you can achieve a lot? Or when you don’t need sleep?

When are you not anxious? Are there any places where you feel comfortable?

What things make you anxious? What things trigger a panic attack?

There sure are a lot of questions that can be asked!! And this is probably the tip of the iceberg really, these are just the questions that I can remember from the health professionals that I saw. I’m sure there are many others for other mental health disorders.

And yet, the most important question is whichever one you ask to the person that you see struggling. It really doesn’t matter what it is. It can be r u ok?, how ya doing?, what’s up with you?, how are things?, how have you been going lately?.

As long as you take the courageous step of asking and listening, you will be doing the right thing. Go you!!