Downer

When  you suffer with anxiety or depression in any of their various forms, it doesn’t take much to get you down. In fact it takes a lot to keep you up!

I find this with a million stupid little things that turn a perfectly good day into a gloomy do! Usually its something that I’ve done that I’m annoyed at myself for, and I just can’t let myself off the hook about it. My husband can just cruise through these things and flick them off, just like water off a ducks back, as the cliche goes; it also helps that he doesn’t seem to make dumb errors in the first place! We have a joke that he’s always right…and it’s nearly always true! But I find myself berating myself over and over inside my head, mentally abusing myself for being so idiotic, self flagellating for my mistakes and lack of memory, or of thought, or of judgement. That just can’t make for a happy day.

I spent a lot of time with a psychologist when I first got sick and one of the main points of therapy involved reframing my thoughts, and interrupting a snowballing chain of thoughts. Reframing means to look at a situation and how you usually react, and try to consciously change your reaction to it so that you put yourself through less stress and hurt, and therefore are more well mentally. Interrupting a snowballing thought process means recognising when you’re starting down a line of negative thinking that is escalating to the dramatic and trying to stop it early, while its something that can be dealt with, before you’re almost to the point of a panic attack. I spent a lot of time working on this, and when you consciously and deliberately look at your thoughts, you do recognise a lot earlier where you can intervene and save yourself a lot of drama! Having said that, it does take a lot of energy to do this at the beginning. It gets to take a little less effort as you get more used to it, and you have less of these thoughts because of dealing with them in a better way. Eventually its more of a habit, but as soon as you think to yourself that you do it automatically and don’t need to put so much effort in, it can creep back in.

It is almost indispensable to have another person around who understands the work that you are trying to do with your head, and who can remind you what to do when you’re working yourself (unintentionally) into a bit of a tizzy! Someone who can remind you to breathe, that the drastic thoughts you’re having are just that: drastic thoughts; and of the techniques that you’ve learnt. I say it all the time but I have the utmost admiration for people on their own dealing with their beast. Kudos, and I don’t know how you do it!

Today started out as a great day. I had a good ride with my Wheel Women. We rode from Docklands to the pink lake in Westgate Park and back, and I had a superb raspberry jam donut (apparently it’s a “bombolini” according to this bakery) to top it off! I also had one of those San Pellegrino chinotto flavoured sodas in lieu of my usual Coke; that was not a highlight! Tastes like medicine!

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I was planning on doing a bit of extra riding today. I had planned to ride from Hawthorn velodrome to the start point of the Wheel Women ride, and then ride back there after the finish of the ride to add in some extra ks, but a little glitch with snoozing the alarm prevented me! Sometimes that would be enough to get me down, but I smiled through that mix up. I mean, just the fact that I wanted to do extra ks is a pretty good indicator that I’m sitting well up on the scale of blue.

I got to the start almost on time, and marvelled with everyone else at how stunningly beautiful Docklands and the water looked in the unexpected sunshine and after the rain. I really expected to get a bit wet with rain today after 2 days of LOTS of rain, but we lucked out. It was beautiful through the whole ride, and we agreed we could just keep riding and riding on a day like this where it was cool so we wouldn’t overheat, dry so we didn’t get cold with wet, not windy…perfect! Shame about me not getting up on time to do the extra riding; it would have been the ideal day for it. Oh well, let’s enjoy the ride I’ve got going on right now, instead of worrying about what I’ve missed. And there is some great re-framing and preventing of snowballing thoughts! And so the ride was just lovely!

And then, the error. The trigger.

Stupidly (it’s always stupidly by the way) I put my phone on the roof of my car.

I know!

Always a first. And last. Then some other first. Or another first if I just haven’t learnt my lesson. And so on.

3 blocks down the road from my car park, I went to put my phone in the holder and an adrenaline shot went right through my gut! I instantly KNEW what I’d done! On the bonus side, I’d been creeping along slowly since leaving the car park, hadn’t cracked 40kmph, maybe not even 30kmph…maybe it was still on the roof?!?

No!

Dulp!!

So back I go to re trace my wheels. I couldn’t get there fast enough; itching at every red light and pedestrian crossing until I got back to where I had been parked. There was a ute there now, so I got out and checked under it for my phone, once, twice etc. Then I carefully drove even slower where I’d driven already, retracing, scanning the street and gutters, wishing, hoping and more.

And back around again, and a third time! Nothing!! ARGH!!

And that’s how it starts. The adrenaline shot depletes a bit of your good mood, the persistent bad results of looking and not finding get you down more, knowing this is all your stupid fault hacks away at your confidence and suddenly you’re berating yourself and the day is not the same day it was before. It’s plummeting down through the levels of good into mediocre and before you know it, it’s not a good day anymore.

Although lately, I’ve been well, and more resilient. I knew this about myself, but this incident proved it without doubt.

I was SO bummed out over this stupid accident which should never have happened in the first place! How could I have been so thick as to put my phone on the roof?? I knew it was a bad idea, and I did it anyway. Who does that?? Typical! I make a rule, and I break my own rule, and of COURSE this is what happens! It’s okay to put the keys on the roof, because you can’t leave without them. But your phone? Idiot!

This is how my thinking goes, left to its own devices. Berating, accusing, bullying, incredulous of myself, throwing insults.

This is where the challenge lies. Putting my psychologist’s knowledge into practice in this moment and not letting the snowballing of negative thoughts get off to a head start. Re-framing the thoughts: instead of calling myself an idiot and stupid and dumb, realise that accidents happen (even if it’s often and always to me!) and this was just that, an accident, and give yourself a break!

So, having proved that my phone cannot be found and doesn’t seem to be anywhere that it should be, I head home. On the way I think of half a dozen reasons why having my phone right now would be so good: to find out the best route home, to take a photo of the city shining in the sun, to pop a starter note for this blog into my notes section, to check my calendar for what else I’m meant to be doing today, to use the Optus app to put my phone plan on hold, to call my hubby and let him know about my phone!! It really is my right hand and its going to be a bit painful without it. Stupid, stup…no, we agreed: not stupid; unfortunate. Accidental. Breathe.

But then, halfway through sliding down the blue scale into the depths, I slowed up and stopped. I stopped. That hasn’t really happened before. And it wasn’t like I put a heap of work into it, into stopping my thoughts. But my head is just in a better place lately, and this didn’t seem to be as big of a deal as similar events have been before, where I could wrap myself in guilt and grief for a whole day. Now I was stopped somewhere around the “okay” mark, still realising the inconvenience and bother I’d caused myself, but not fatalistic like many times before. What is this new feeling? Is this being well? Could it be?

I got home and flicked a message off to hubby about being out of phone contact. Then got out one of my comforters and I was pleasantly surprised that before long I was smiling and feeling quite serene about the whole thing! What is this? It was still annoying etc but it didn’t feel like it was taking up my whole world with distraught stress but like it was just one part of the picture. I like this feeling!

I believe that this is how you know you’re well. You can recover from events that happen, instead of collapsing into various levels of despair and misery. I’m not sure how this state came about, but I feel like the chemicals in my brain are finally aligned and things are just easier. It’s very exciting!! To say the least.

As to what happened with my phone? Hubby told me all the things I could do and so I went through Google’s ‘find my phone’ function online (just search for it) and I used that to lock my phone, to put a message on the lock screen to say please return my phone and to give the number to call, and to track my phone. I have to say that was the most satisfying and frustrating part, watching someone driving my phone along. It travelled the Bass Hwy towards Phillip Island via the koala park, and then stopping at the Nobbies, and I was unable to do a single thing about it!! But it was awesome to be able to watch them in the first place. I made a full report to the police and they were very helpful. But then my husband got a phone call from the person who picked it up: turns out they were a coach driver who found the phone in Docklands super close to where I’d driven past, and they planned to bring it back the next day! How kind and honest! So all’s well that ends well in the end. My husband biked from his work into the city in his lunchtime to pick up the phone, and everything is as it should be once again.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Do NOT put your mobile phone on the roof of your car in any circumstances!
  2. Do leave your GPS function on so that you can track your phone if you ever lose it, it was accurate down to 6 metres at one point
  3. Do be aware of Google’s find your phone functions
  4. Ideally always have your screen locked, but know that you can lock it remotely in an emergency
  5. One day, after so much pain, stress, medication, therapy and time, you will be well again. Believe.
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I’m back…

[Started on December 9th]

“I’m back, baby doll…”

-one of favourite quotes from How I Met Your Mother

I’m baa-ack. It’s been a month, apparently. It felt a lot longer! I only know this fact of it being a month since I was here from opening my blog today for the first time since … so it tells me … the 9th of November.

Wow.

And during that time I actually thought up zero topics, had zero inclination to write anything and was pretty much happy to climb into a hole and be a hermit for the rest of my natural life. But the light has broken through and here I am.

It’s been a very full month. I’m trying. A trip away to Werribee, days out of the house doing stuff, hanging out with girlfriends, some actual real live housework. There were, surprisingly, some pretty great times.

And then there were days when I wore my pajamas until 5pm and only left my bed to eat. But you know, looking for the upside!!

There was one amazing week where I thought I’d finally broken through the depression glass ceiling into what normal life could be like, and I loved it! So did my GP: ‘Imagine if this is how life could be from now on? That would be f*@%*^# awesome’. His words, not mine! Just to clarify. But yes, why yes, yes it would.

Sadly for me and anyone my life bumps up against, it was mania.

Oh mania, you heartbreaking devil you. You get us so excited and hopeful and relieved and let us sniff “normal” for 5 minutes, before depression overcomes us again and we all sink back into the swamp!

Normal, or a bit more overdone than normal; either way, it’s a nice change from blergh, uff and erk!

But it wasn’t devastating when mania went this time. Well not as devastating. This time. I’m getting more resilient gradually.

[Updated from here in later December but the computer wiped all my additions and made me so angry I gave up on it! Then I vowed to complete it on January 9th but when the date came around I was staying in a motel without WIFI…ahh the horrors of modern life! So here I am, Feb 9th…and finally I’m back! And saving my draft after every word!!]

Thankfully, bit by bit, episode by episode, high by low by high by low I am taking it less personally, getting less excited and less distraught when my brain chemistry flicks the switch and lands me somewhere I wasn’t prepared for.

So says my mouth, and my head. So I wish, so I hope. And maybe sometimes that’s the case, that I’m less wrung out over it. Maybe.

But actually now that I’m slipping down the slidey slope again I find myself not so okay with that. I don’t want to go down there again. I don’t want to be like that again. But it seems that I’m not being consulted in the matter of what goes on in my own head.

Ironic, isn’t it? My own head, taken hostage by chemicals. Chemicals that don’t even have brains or thinking power or motives – but they pack quite the punch! We’re doing all we can to oppose them but it’s turning out to be more of a war than just a battle.

I’ve been told over that I have tricky brain chemistry. At first I thought it was one of those placating remarks all doctors make to help ease you through the rough period between the diagnosis of depression and the onset of full medication effect, which can be up to 6 or 8 weeks at times in some people.

Although I guess I didn’t hear it said first until I was trying the 5th antidepressant; but I definitely needed to hear something at that point to convince me that I should still hold hope that this one would work! My doctor told me that every time an antidepressant didn’t work, we were one step closer to finding the one that would; we were one step closer to getting better; the depression was one step closer to showing us how it was working and what we could do to oppose it.

That’s a lot of talking for a chemical to do!

Time and experience have unfortunately proved the fact to be true. I have tricky brain chemistry. It’s difficult for the medications that we have available to match the chemicals that are lacking from, but should be in, my brain keeping me from becoming anxious, depressed, manic or a swinging monkey between all three moods!

I’d love to be one of those people who gets diagnosed with depression, gets prescribed whatever antidepressant their doctor has on their mind that week, tolerates it well and after a year or so with successful treatment and other supports, undertakes a careful withdrawal of their medication under supervision of their doctor and continues on with their life drug/medication free. Not trivialising their sufferings, just envious of their rapid and successful long term improvement and freedom from medications.

Of course that doesn’t happen in bipolar disorder; only in depression. Bipolar is not a condition that remits; it’s a life sentence. It’s not going anywhere, and it’s quite unlikely that I’ll ever be free from taking medicines.

But it’s the dream, isn’t it? To be medication free, drug free, not drug dependant; isn’t that the dream of any person tied to medication?

As a pharmacist I have to ask every person/patient I deal with if they take medications. Apparently this is the most annoying question that a person could possibly ever ask! Or maybe I’m just asking it wrong; that’s always a possibility.

When I was working, a distant memory just now, I’d get 50 people a day saying “I’m not the kind of person that takes medication”, “I’m not the type of person who takes tablets”, “I’m not some kind of druggie”! Or my personal pet favourite hate: “I don’t like taking pills”.

Really? Well who does like taking pills? And what exactly is the type of person that would take medications? I guess having to take medications to get by makes me more sensitive to these types of comments spoken from ignorant minds. It’s obvious that they’ve just never given the issue more than a seconds thought, or they’re basing it on inappropriate pill popping they’ve seen on TV.

But just a suggestion, if you ever come across me actually working as a pharmacist in the indeterminate future, please just answer no or pass me a printed list of all your meds with doses, thank you so kindly!

 Moving on.

Tricky chemistry, multiple antidepressants, additional diagnosis of bipolar on top of depression and anxiety.

The diagnosis of bipolar disorder, after the initial shock and rejection of the idea as stupid and crazy (oh the irony of calling it crazy!), was actually not that surprising, looking at it rationally. The failure of antidepressants to work or to work fully is actually an indicator of bipolar disorder, which I knew somewhere in my mind from when I studied mental illness as half of my post graduate studies. Another irony!

What if I’d had the clarity of thought to see it that way back when? To look inside my brain in a rational, systematic, logical manner. But that’s not how mental illness works. It takes a regular brain and clouds it with so much doubt, fear, hurt, pain, sadness, hopelessness etc that you just can’t see.

I’d go to my doctor and say, I was so bleak and black yesterday I nearly couldn’t stand it. And he’d say, how many Valium did you take?

Valium. Brand name of diazepam, used in my case as a sedative and anxiolytic, remover of anxiety and worry.

And every time he said it, it would be such a revelation to me: oohhhh! RIght! I should have taken a Valium! That would have made me feel better. Of course, how did I not think of that? I say every time because there were quite a few times he had to say that to me!! And I’m a pharmacist! Turns out being a good pharmacist doesn’t always extend to yourself! Luckily my husband is happy to jump in and now whenever I’m complaining of my mood he puts on his doctor voice and asks me, did you take a Valium??

I had this sanctioned stash of tablets capable of taking a stressed-to-the-eyeballs or suicidal girl and transforming her into a warm, fuzzy, calm girl ready to take a nice comfy little sleep to get her through the hours until her chemistry improved or she crawled into the doctor’s office, totally empty and out of ideas and ready for the next injection of hope, help and medication changes.

I had it. I still have it. 13 months later! I think I’m getting better at remembering how to render psychiatric first aid to myself when the complicated muddle of meds I’m on just isn’t cutting it, or the depression is just a bit too strong, or the mania is making my limbs dance a jig of agitiation. Or everything is just all too much and the circuit breaker has to be activated to prevent the whole place from burning down! Metaphorically, not literally.

 Because there are still those days. Bleak days. Blank days. Flittering days. Storm in a teacup days. Meltdown days. Frustrating days. Agitated days.

There are less of them. They come less often. They do less damage. They don’t get full control of me. But they do come. They’ll always come.

The key, as they always say, is management. So here we are, my and my team, managing. We’re managing. And that’s pretty great!

Thank you for taking the time to read my great big long shambles and hope to chat again soon x