Canberra Day 95

[Thursday 15th December]

Today I have to bite the bullet and start packing! I thought we’d be here a bit longer because hubby’s work isn’t finished but our rental apartment ends this weekend so I guess we going home! I’ve got to sort out our mail redirection too, it’s been an utter mess since we moved out of our family’s place into our own apartment – to date we still haven’t received a piece of correctly addressed mail despite many phone calls. Anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter now cos all the redirection will be cancelled. But its been a bit hopeless.

I didn’t put too much on my ticket today because of all the packing, but I am doing a tour of the Old Parliament House rose garden in the drizzle. Myself and another lady were booked earlier in the week but the guide never showed; some administration issue apparently. So there are gardens on each side of House and they were designed with the politicians in mind for their rest and recuperation when they weren’t sitting. There aren’t many things more relaxing than strolling through a rose garden so I think it was well intended. There are some themes that run through the garden including sections dedicated to a particular politician or wife, and different varieties and pedigrees of roses, plus bowls and paths and arch ways. It’s beautiful really, just wish I could fit in another visit. The photo doesn’t do it justice; it was raining.

IMG_5081-2

Then I picked up a free National Gallery of Australia highlights tour, which looked through the sky space , went through various collections, overlooked the fern garden and some of the sculpture garden and was a terrific glance over everything. I went back over a few collections, but time being of the essence it was time to keep moving.

Later in the day I went back around the embassies to get some photos. When we did the driving tour earlier in our time here I just enjoyed it without taking photos. So I had fun taking some photos until I got near the USA embassy then I got emphatically shooed off! They are very touchy!

So, I’ve just about fitted in as much as I can here, and tomorrow is the last day for me! Hubby has to fly back up on Monday morning for another week but he’s not getting any free time at the moment, so I doubt he’ll be getting any tourist attractions. Til tomorrow!

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Fun and games

I have been having a really happy time lately. Somehow things have been going really well for me. And for the first time I do believe that my bike riding has something to do with it.

I’ve been cynical of the supposed serotonin-increasing effect that exercise is meant to have on a person. I have experienced severe depression and so many people have told me to exercise, encouraged me to exercise, told me how exercise would help, and asked me if exercise was helping, and referred me to endless articles that supposedly prove how exercise should help me and would help me by increasing my serotonin.

I never got it.

I never felt that I was “better” after exercising, and specifically after riding my bike. I think this is mainly because in my lethargy and weight gain, exercise was so difficult to get started and to maintain that the sheer effort of exercise was greater than any benefit that may have been lurking way back there in the background. I didn’t feel a buzz, I didn’t feel elated, I wasn’t flying high or whatever it was that I was meant to be feeling. What exactly was I meant to be feeling, after all? Exercise was meant to increase my serotonin, yeah? What was the effect or end result of that increase in serotonin meant to be, exactly? What would it feel like if I had it? How would I know I had it? Would it be a direct effect? Would it occur at the time or would the effect be cumulative? I’m sure there are some answers out there but I’ve avoided looking at them, because for a good long while my bike riding was harder than it was anything else, and I just didn’t believe in the serotonin thing.

Until now. I haven’t lost any weight as yet, but half a dozen people have told me lately that they think I’ve lost weight; I’m hoping that means I’ve put on muscle and lost fat but time will tell. I’m a lot less lethargic thanks to returning to work, and having a regular schedule, and places to go, and people to see. Regular bike riding has definitely built up some kind of stamina in me, more than I would have had 13 months ago when I did my first ride with Wheel Women, and thought I would die from it! I view bike rides a lot more optimistically these days, I’m happy to say. This is based on my cumulative experience of so many rides; 60 rides in 59 weeks since March 2015, when I first got back on my bike.

This increased stamina has been improved on recently when I did a 4 day bike riding tour with Wheel Women through central northern Victoria. Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook will have seen the photos! To prepare for the tour I rode every day for 3 days over Easter in the week prior to the tour. I did this to prepare for the anticipated soreness I might experience when getting back on the bike day after day, and to try to build up the endurance that I would need on the tour. I didn’t ride long or far, but riding every day really did something. Then riding 62km, 43km, 37km and 28km for 4 consecutive days  on tour built up another kind of stamina. Arriving at this level of stamina has brought my riding up to another level, and since I got back its been like I’m riding on a cloud. I think it’s because the 3 rides I’ve done since I got back to town are less kilometres, bar one 40km ride, and less strenuous, also bar one ride with a few “gentle” hills, but overall they aren’t as tough as the rides I did while I was away and so I’m riding within my limit, inside my reserves and so it all feels easier!

And I love that!

There’s a saying in cycling, and probably in all sports, and maybe in life too that a certain thing doesn’t get easier as you develop your skills in it, you just get quicker at it. But at the moment I’m not only quicker at riding, but it feels like it’s easier too. And that feels awesome! Not all of it of course, hills are still a bit of a nemesis but I’m even going easier up hills! And I’ve changed my philosophy about hills since the tour. We did 40km or so one day that was more or less flat; my ideal situation, I thought. But now I think differently. Flat terrain just means that your legs go up, go down, go up, go down, rub in the middle on the bike seat, chafe from the bike shorts however comfy they are to start with, get tired, have no chance for a break unless you want to slow down, and it all gets tedious! I thought it was ideal, but now I can see the downsides to flat, and the upside to undulating and even hilly!

At least with undulations or little hills, you get a break while you’re rolling down the other side. It can be quite fun actually, a little up then a little rest on the way down. A little extra work for a little less work; it feels worth it. Plus it’s kind of a challenge for this girl from Flatlandria to operate the gears correctly to get up the incline without changing pedal rotation speed…it can be one way to keep your brain going when your legs aren’t loving the effort.

So here I am, having fun and games on my bike 🙂 I’ve even recently bought a T shirt that says ‘I want to ride my bicycle’. And I’m even heading out on my own after publishing this to do a ride that really sucked a month ago, just to test out my new theory that with the new stamina I’ve built up lately, it’s gonna be a whole heap easier, faster and more fun this time.

Wish me luck!

Departure lounge

This week was always going to be a week of goodbyes.

After my sister’s wedding last week (photos to follow!!) my cousin, one of the bridesmaids, flew out to France for an open dated holiday in her favourite country on earth. Having been there before and having good French language skills, she is planning to spend this holiday off the beaten track. We’ll miss her at our weekly gathering point, Grandma’s fabulous Sunday lunch roast and dessert! More for us!

Then of course, my newlywed baby sister and her hubby are flying back to Latvia today! I say back because that’s where he was born and grew up. Their plan is to be there for 4 years because they are both planning to start and finish their undergraduate degrees there. So It’s a big goodbye!

I don’t think that any one of us has grasped it yet, especially Dad who wonders why everyone is asking him if he’s sad to see her go! Not much to wonder at, but he’s fixed himself in the mindset that its exciting and happy to see her marry her love and move off into their new life. We’ll see how long that lasts once she has actually gotten on the plane for 4 years!

Of course the two students may scrape together enough money to come back to Australia, and most of us are planning a visit at some point but it’s still a long time. Mum and Dad and her have been the only ones at home since my brother moved to Melbourne for uni 3.5 years ago, so I think they’ll really notice her absence around the house.

Then my teacher brother-in-law is flying to England for a year on Thursday! How’s that, sister and brother-in-law, plus brother-in-law, flying out in the same week! It makes more sense when you know that the school year starts on the 1st September across the UK and Europe. So for a teacher, and two students, it makes sense to move with a few weeks grace to get settled into accommodation etc. A year isn’t so bad, there’s an end point to look forward to. But it’s so hard to imagine his Mum and Dad without him. He’s also the youngest and it’s been the three of them since his older brother moved away to do his apprenticeship YEARS ago. Not sure how many, but it could be eight or so years. They’ll definitely be looking for him around the house!

So those are the scheduled departures. We’ve had the goodbye parties, given them advice, wished them farewell. Everything according to plan and tradition, and everyone has had their part in it.

I want to add one more departure to the list.

This was not a scheduled departure. There was no celebration beforehand where people got together with the person leaving and shook their hand and talked and laughed and got their fill of the person departing that would tide them over til they next met. No advice was given about the next step of the journey about to be traveled by the departing and how to traverse it.

I think that most people involved felt that this was a tragic departure, in the literary sense that tragic means inevitable.

I want to wish my own farewell to RT who departed his life this week. You know when someone starts a sentence and they haven’t finished yet, in fact they’re only in the middle but you know the end is going to be something you don’t like? That’s how I heard about it. There is no other way to hear it, other than someone telling you but the hearing of it is never easy.

Many months of a terrible depression preceded this departure, I heard. A mighty, mighty battle has taken place. That battle involved good friends doing their best, multiple inpatient psychiatric admissions, previous suicide attempts, medications, and more that I don’t know about.

In fact I don’t know this person, only in passing. I would recognise him on the street, we’ve maybe exchanged a dozen words in total in our lifetimes. Every year while I was growing up we would spend 3 Saturdays in October at a farm where our annual Christian convention was held, getting it all ready. Our family was always there, he and his wife were always there. They were the cool, young couple that girls growing up through their teens can admire. That was the full extent of “knowing” him.

But there is this phenomenon I’ve heard spoken about where people can experience grief for someone they don’t know, or have barely met, or celebrities etc that is disproportionate to their relationship with that person. Sometimes it can be as profound and take as emotional a toll as the death of a family member. Like when the news of Elvis having left the building descended on the world. Tears and sobbing from people who “knew” him from a concert, a tape, magazines. It’s valid.

I don’t think that’s what is happening here. I think what is happening is several months ago a mutual acquaintance described to me the suffering this person was experiencing as a result of depression. And it resonated with me very strongly because of my experience with depression. I had amazing support and all the help that I could possible require and there were days when I didn’t think I could survive.

As far as I heard, this person had no one at home, some friends around town and family nowhere near by. I could totally connect with his deep need for support and love and care, and the absence of these needs being met. No amount of psychiatric care can compensate for having a partner, family member, very close friend who “gets” you, who understands your suffering, who can be there for you to help you keep safe, who feeds you with love and care and hope, and reminds you again and again that you can fight this war to a victory and they will help you all the way.

His story just made me want to reach out and say, I feel for you, I’ve been where you’ve been and I know how awful and hard and dark and hopeless it is, and I want you to know that I came through and it is worth the fight. Or something like that.

That’s what I wanted to say. But after his wife left, his whole world crumbled, he had nothing to live for on this earth. Because I think kind honesty is the best way to support someone, I don’t know that I would have been able to say convincingly that it’s all worth it in the end, keep fighting, one day this will be all behind you and be a distant bad dream and you’ll be glad that you fought and won.

When you have nothing to live for on earth, it’s a very hard situation. I had everything to live for, and it was a hard, uphill, difficult road, and still may be in the future. But with nothing to live for, why would you try? Why would you fight for, scrabble for grip to, desperately cling to, and give your all to hang onto life? What for? Giving everything to hold onto life that doesn’t feel worth living, that holds searing pain, awful agony, sorrow, struggle, being alone, without love etc. All that terribly difficult effort while drowning in molasses, and what for? That’s what being suicidal is like.

And so he left us. It was inevitable. It’s sad, because nothing more could be done to hold him here on earth, because he couldn’t find enough to hold him to life. But I strongly feel that now he has peace and rest from so much awfulness. And how blissful will that peace and rest be, after so much difficulty on earth.

I have more thing to say. I believe in God, in Jesus, in eternal life. I’ll write about this point more one day. God’s commandments in the Old Testament were, thou shalt not kill. And I think that would have included ourselves. But the New Testament came in Jesus who has showed his great love and mercy. I believe that although we would want to help someone not to end their ow life, when someone is hurting so much that they can’t handle it anymore, Jesus understands and forgives. He knows what we have gone through and why we have reached such a point of desperation. He offers his help and grace in our lifetime, which is promised to be sufficient for us, but in our agony we can’t see much beyond our hurting self.

I feel that our mental health and our spiritual health are two disparate things. But they get confused. We don’t confuse our physical health with religion. We don’t expect our faith to help our gout. But our mental health has foggier borders. Our religion can be a help to us in all situations, but it’s not a cure for any illness, and depression isn’t a religious issue; it’s a medical issue.

I say this just to make the point that when someone we know hits the threshold of what they can possibly bear and can no longer suffer their daily life, let’s recognise that they have succumbed to a medical condition that was unable to be sufficiently treated with the medications and therapy that we have available these days. Let us never consider that their faith wasn’t enough, or they lost their religion, or they somehow should have found a way to survive. Suicide isn’t a comment on the sufferers ability, but the disease’s severity.

Farewell, fierce fighter. I recognise how much you fought, and I’m sorry that the disease was too strong for you. You will be missed. But I will remember your story. I won’t forget your bravery.

To all of you in this post, til we meet again.

Getting going

I want to talk about motivation.

Again.

Because we can never hear this message too many times. Because understanding motivation might just make you someone’s hero. And it might make people with motivation more thankful and grateful for it, and help them feel empathy for someone in defeat!

Motivation is a BIG, HUGE, MASSIVE, ENORMOUS, GIGANTIC barrier to people suffering from depression.

If you don’t have motivation, the days are more than a huge struggle, a grueling drag, a marathon race, a torture ground, long, hard, awful and just something you don’t want to have to force yourself through again, just because the stupid sun came up!

Sigh, groan, urgh, ahhh, really, why? Do I have to? I don’t think I can. How about later? I just need a bit more sleep. Maybe tomorrow, I’m just not up to it today. Nah I think it’ll wait til tomorrow.

Motivation is what gets us up in the morning. We’re motivated to get to work on time, eat a healthy breakfast, do well at our jobs, keep house, bring up nice, healthy children and because we have this motivation we do what it takes to get these things done. We don’t even think about motivation until we have to make an extra effort, like participate in a sporting event or study for exams. It just comes naturally.

But depression vacuums up every last inch of motivation, unplugs the dirt bag and buries it deep in the middle of a Mexican desert where you will NEVER, EVER find it EVER again.

It’s gone.

Done.

No more.

So instead of going about your business as you normally would, each and every tedious step takes your fullest energy and effort!

Getting up took all my effort, and was delayed to the last possible second or a bit longer. Showering exhausted me: stepping into the tub, standing up for that long, lifting my arms to wash myself. Getting dressed was a Herculean task! So many motions to go through!

Walking to the bus stop took so long since I was wading through thigh deep thick, sticky treacle, figuratively speaking. I slept as much as I could manage on that bus, the train, and the next bus. I grabbed a quick takeaway breakfast of the oily kind and tried to get to the morning handover on time. There were usually some missing minutes before the work day started.

sausage, egg, tomato

Breakfast of the oily kind!

From then on the aim was minimal physical effort, pure survival until morning tea break, until lunchtime, until afternoon tea, until home time. These breaks were my vital link to survival. I got to sit down, and eat. And just be by myself.

Then came the end of the day with the new aim of getting home ASAP and getting into bed and desperately trying to get enough rest for the next day. That never happened, I never felt rested enough the next morning. I started every day in a severe deprivation of rest. I had had exactly the amount of sleep I needed physically but the adrenaline racketting around my body made me feel continually at the limit and exhausted.

But do you know what? I believe that throughout that time I still operated at my usual level in my job. Nobody noticed that I was suffering badly. They didn’t notice that I was suffering at all. All throughout I made a lot of friends and collegues. My peer review rated well. My boss was very pleased with me. I knew I was doing a good job. I was a good pharmacist. My team was tight and I loved the group of pharmacists that I was in. I was keeping up appearances.

That’s what was showing on the outside, and am glad it was cos I loved that job and wanted to do my absolute best. And I feel that I did. Somehow.

All this despite all of this other stuff screaming and shrieking on the inside. Once or twice a week I went to my GP across the road and that was my outlet. There I could cry, sob, not be okay, hate my situation, complain, whinge, feel awful. And he was happy with that. In fact that’s what he wanted, that I could keep going elsewhere, even at home, but have at least that one outlet where there was no hiding, no pretending, no pushing on. Home was my other outlet, no pretence. Or so I thought. My husband says to this day that he had no idea of the extent of my illness. I guess keeping up appearances got to be a habit!

salad

Dinner I made in November 2013…must have gotten up some momentum! It wasn’t all bad news, and no wonder my hubby was fooled! Looking back at this photo, I’m fooled!

This, my friends, all of the above, is why when ANYONE ever suggests that I should “push through the barriers” or “make a bit of an effort” or “just try a bit harder”, my hackles rise, my respect for their understanding and knowledge bungee jumps off a cliff with no rope, and I from then on out try to avoid them as much as possible. Then. These days I try to educate them, but I give up quickly if I’m not making an progress. I don’t have the energy to waste.

Try a bit harder? Do you realise that I am constantly at the absolute limit of what I can physically, mentally, spiritually and everything else manage just to be here, out of bed, dressed, among other people, smiling and giving the general impression of being okay? No, of course you don’t. I know it may not look like it, or feel like it. In fact it probably looks the opposite, that I’m not doing very much at all. But to me, right now, I’m doing the very best that I’m capable of. So I smile harder and walk away.

Of course I’m talking mostly about the time before, during and after my diagnosis of generalised anxiety disorder, depression, and bipolar disorder. And the time following each of these when I started medication which was adjusted and added to and removed from and monitored. They were awful days. Not every day, and not all day, but in general they were just hard to get through! And they aren’t gone completely, but I have not had SUCH a bad day in many months now.

These days I’m doing better for motivation, still not back to my old high achieving self with good self care and standards of house keeping. But getting there. It has taken a LONG time to get back, about a year from when I first restarted antidepressants in December 2013 and has been greatly helped by starting lithium in May a year ago, which I still consider to be not only my life raft but the instrument of getting back to my old life. My life takes less thought, less meticulous planning and less energy and effort to conduct. I have reserves of energy that don’t get fully drained, and life is just more enjoyable because of that.

There are tricks and tips that I still have to use against myself. Making things non-negotiable by paying for a course because my inner coin counting self won’t accept waste. RSVPing to organised bike rides so everyone else is expecting me and will be let down if I don’t arrive. Making dates and times to meet people for lunch, coffee etc so that I have to go. Keeping going while I’m going, and doing just one more job, one more chore, tick one more thing off my to-do list before I sit down and don’t get up again.

bed, winter, ginger cat

Getting out of bed is harder. So I make my doctor’s appointment each fortnight at 10 or 11am so that I have to get up on time that day to get there on time, which is also non-negotiable because that GP saved my life more than once and I owe him my best effort. Any other appointments that I have I try to make in the morning also, for the same effect. Lately it has been easier because my miracle working psychiatrist, in one fell swoop, has erased all sedation and daytime drowsiness and sleepiness. So I actually wake up at the time that other adults wake up! Sometimes even earlier like 4 or 5am. And go back to sleep for a bit but often I’m wide awake by 8am or a bit earlier. So that greatly helps!

Showering. This is an issue. I don’t know why, but I just have such a hard time working myself up to getting in the shower! It’s gotten to the point of a serious aversion. My husband has to get the water running (no mean feat with our current plumbing) and frog march me in. Once I’m there its fine, not a problem at all. It’s the getting started that’s the problem. Which, in it’s essence, is what motivation is. The drive and momentum to getting things started. So there’s still a ways to go, but I have come a ways which is comforting.

Launching Place, rail trail, sign

Launching Place: sounds like a good place to start!