Hard questions #1

*WARNING: this is a blunt and honest account of hygiene, specifically the lack thereof – you may not look at me quite the same after reading this, but remember that I am the same person, just struggling to keep my juggling balls in the air*

What I write here, I write to share with you the side of mental illness that isn’t necessarily obvious to the onlooker, be they aware or unaware of the illness. Or maybe its obvious, but not understood. I write it to break through the stigma, if I can, that still settles over the mentally ill and to raise awareness of what life is like inside a head that doesn’t let you be the boss very often.

I know this isn’t going to be glamorous. But believe me: I’m not trying to sensationalise the truth. If anything, I’m under-selling the real story. So here we go:

Some questions are hard to answer.

Some questions are unanswerable.

Some you just wish were!

Like,

“How long is it since you last had a shower?” – husband

 

Ummm…well…

I’m not really sure…ahhh…

Maybe…I don’t know…

I think it was…

Hang on, when did I last work? Was it then…no, that’s right, I dry shampooed…

So, then…maybe on the weekend? Which day was it…

You changed the towels a week ago?

I haven’t used mine yet? Hmm…

…well then I guess…well then I guess that’s when…ah, yeah…so…a week you say…

Now where was I? let me just…slowly walks awaydrowns in shame

Plans to shower tomorrowknows it probably won’t happen

more shamethat’s life!

There are a number of questions that you try your best to avoid hearing, and therefore having to answer, once chronic illness has set in.

Like, when did you last have a shower.

I was never a shower-a-day person. I grew up out of town in drought years and whenever the rain didn’t come we had to buy in tanker loads of water to fill up our concrete tanks because we weren’t connected to town water. For longer than I liked we didn’t shower, we bathed because it was much more economical for water use to run a bath tub full of water rather than have individual showers. Plus when we were little its just what you do; everyone piles in. When we were little the bathroom was also outside in the mud brick section of the house: shower and bath in one room, laundry in another, and toilet at the end. Later on in our school years we got an inside bathroom (toilet still outside) and it was one after the other, and you got to top it up with hot water if it ran cold, which by the time the 4th person got in was a high likelihood, never mind the parents. Especially because some people liked to have a sleep in there, regardless of those following! Okay I was one of those having a sleep in the bath, but I went last or close to last. If you were washing your hair you got to quickly rinse the conditioner off in the shower, given that the bath water wasn’t the cleanest by that point. Then again, showering wasn’t all it cracked up to be since the shower head was too short! It was half a gym workout doing squats under the tap while rinsing your hair!

So I was an every second day washer, basically just when my hair needed washing or my leg hair was getting to liberated woman stage! So when I got sick I didn’t exactly have the best routine to fall back on.

Why is showering so difficult and so irregular now?

There’s no simple, snappy one-liner answer.

It’s a few things.

My shower is in a bath. Lifting a leg over the tub just always seems so…HARD! I think about having a shower, and I think about getting one leg up and over, let alone 2 legs into that bath without over-balancing, the effort of getting my big self up and over into the tub and its just…its…its so…its just, yeah, well, maybe tomorrow.

So there’s that. Plus it takes energy. If I had a store of energy, like in a barn, I would go get the amount of energy that I need with my forklift and bring it back to the bathroom and have my shower. It would be simple, straightforward. I would just take the exact amount of energy needed, use it to have a shower and it would be all good! Sadly, unfortunately, regrettably, energy doesn’t store. It just comes and goes, waxes and wanes. You either have it in the moment or you don’t. There are things that help or not, but there’s no guarantee of having the energy you need when you need it. So, lying in bed thinking about having a shower and I ask myself, do I have the energy to do this right now? And it’s an easy answer, it’s a yes/no problem. So it either happens, or it doesn’t. I.e. it doesn’t. Because all that thinking just used up my having a shower energy! Isn’t that ironic? So now no energy, no shower and I turn my attention to covering up not having a shower, if its been more than a day.

There are things that make it a bit easier. Hubby getting the shower running and frogmarching me to the edge of the tub for instance. Well that’s about it, actually. There are hardly any things that actually motivate me to the point of getting up off my tush and having a shower, even my amazing husband. Even when he asks me to, as a favour to him. This is a point that a lot of people don’t understand.

“Don’t you want to do it for me?”, “Yes I do want to do it for you”.

“Do it for me”, “I can’t”.

“Can’t you even do it for me?”, “I’m sorry, I just can’t, even for you”.

It hurts me to give these answers. I love my husband more than anything in the whole world. We have been best friends since 2003, since we met practically. We’ve been married for nearly 8 years and have shared everything together. If I could do it for him, I would! Come to think of it, if I could do it for myself, I would! But its not about that. Its about not having the energy, the motivation, the drive to do it. If one of those questions comes up, it just makes me feel worse about the whole thing, which is not the intention I know; that I wouldn’t even do it for him, after all he’s done for me. How selfish!!

And maybe it is selfish. A lot of times depressed people have to make selfish choices for their own survival, be it mental, physical, or emotional survival. And it hurts us to do it. But we need to, even if you don’t see why. It’s not about you, its about us; that sounds selfish right there. But we spend a lot of time conserving our resources and we know what we can and can’t manage. But doing that means a lot of navel-gazing, inward looking so you’ll have to excuse us while we’re busy sorting ourselves out, please.

I think it is a severe understatement to say that my husband is long-suffering! He is beyond patient and kind with me, beyond what I deserve for trying his limits so severely with such things as:

  • unwashed hair looking and feeling greasy
  • the same hair tangled into dreadlocks-style clumps that have to be cut out after who knows how long of not brushing my hair, then dry shampooing, then not brushing, then dry shampooing etc
  • eyebrow/underarm/leg/bikini waxing abandoned I don’t even know how long ago anymore!
  • tooth brushing I also don’t know…well I do know cos I brushed them last week once, but before that its anyone’s guess and he suffers them orange with food stuff and still bravely kisses me when I must be repulsive with plaquey teeth and bad breath
  • BO is one area that I think is mostly under control thanks to Dove Invisible Dry with 1/4 soap
  • avoiding hand washing except when its absolutely necessary, meaning much less often than I should

You would think that because I love my husband so much, and because I know that I owe him so much, and want to please him, that these emotions would motivate me to fix these areas. He hopes that I would do it for him, and I’d love to be able to do these things for him, but wanting to do it and doing it are separate entities that rarely collide, I’ve found. Because while I DO want to do it, especially do it for him, wanting it doesn’t give you energy, the kick, the ability to actually get up and do it. I wish. So often, probably daily, my husband may well think that I don’t care enough about him to do one “little” thing for him like clean my teeth. But there’s just something so difficult to overcome in myself to just start to think about doing one of these things. I want to in theory, but practice hasn’t really tallied out on my side.

It’s difficult to explain why its so hard to do these things. After all they’re easy things that most people just do without even thinking about it. But its a common happening in depressed people to get slacker on these things. It’s just one of those things that goes when your mind and your body slow down. It takes 10 minutes of pros and cons to decide that I absolutely can’t go another day without showering, that even my soapy deodorant, dry shampoo and perfume aren’t going to cut it today. Then it takes a good 10 minutes to plan how I’m going to get up, walk the 9 steps to the bathroom (actually 9 steps), clamber into the bath and get the shower going. Then I may actually have a shower, or can it after all and skip another day.

I’m not alone. I was relieved when I found this out. Depression tells you that you’re a slob, and disgusting, and no one wants to be around you, and maybe thats not far off. But knowing that this is a common symptom of depression takes a little of the pressure off, which helps you to take it easy on yourself, which in its own twisted roundabout way means that you’re MORE likely to pick up some of the hygiene slack. So here’s what others have said

“Literally not showering for months. Not changing your clothes for weeks. Not combing your hair for days. Not brushing your teeth for weeks. With depression, hygiene goes out the window.” — Zoe S – The Mighty ‘Worst Symptoms of Depression‘ article.

“Not keeping in touch with anyone, bad personal hygiene and extremely bad reactions to seemingly trivial things.” — Jenny B – Upworthy ‘30 Things Depressed People Do‘ article.

“I love not having to decide if I’m mentally and emotionally prepared to spend time drying my hair after a shower” – a friend who just shaved her head for cancer awareness and fundraising.

“Thinking about going to the gymhaving a shower like”…hopefully this opens to a visual aid giving you an idea of how I think about showers.

But now, a new directive:

“Danika, I strongly encourage you to shower daily” – my psychiatrist

Rats!! *snaps fingers* I was hoping to avoid such a direct instruction!

“Not for hygiene…”

Well that’s surprising! All I’ve considered so far is hygiene.

“…but for your own self-worth. You aren’t showering because of low self-worth, and then not showering further lowers your self-worth. *cue light bulb moment* You have come from a long way back to get back to work and it hasn’t been easy, especially having issues with the pharmacy board and your current job, but you made it. As far as work goes you’re back to where you came from, more or less. Showering daily will reinforce to you that you’re back to where you came from, and improve your self-worth. Your actions inform your mind, just as your mind informs your actions” – my psychiatrist, quoted as near as I can remember.

Well that was all a revelation, I can tell you!

Showering to improve how I think about myself. Not cause its the thing to do, or for hygiene, or cause someone thinks I should. In fact, its all about me! And don’t we like that?

So, here I am the day after yesterday when I talked to my psychiatrist, 5.26pm, wondering when exactly should I have this shower? Cos I’ve managed to not have the time for it so far: dropping off the car to get serviced first thing then doing a jobs run of picking up clothing repairs/script dispensing/groceries/posting a parcel then walking home, breakfast, a nap, another little nap, house inspection, groceries delivered, pick up the car, Officeworks. And now going out to dinner…is there time before? Or when we get home? Hmmm.

I do feel like my head is in a different space though, after that chat. Shout out to my darling husband for dobbing me in to the psychiatrist!! Sheesh!! So, about that shower…

Advertisements

Canberra Day 64

[Monday 14th November]

A friend of mine from my Wheel Women cycling group in Melbourne has a gorgeous rain coat that she wears on a lot of rides. Anytime I ride behind her when she’s wearing it, the slogan printed on the back catches my eye: shower’s pass. How about that? Shower’s pass. They don’t last. I’m sure it’s intended as merely a marketing slogan but each time I read it again it resonates with me on a deeper level about life. Shower’s pass. Bad things won’t last. This not so nice phase you’re in? Just wait, it’ll blow through. In the meantime wrap yourself up in something to protect you from the wet and the cold, and don’t despair; there’s hope. Maybe it’s silly of me to think so much into a jacket, but it makes me feel more optimistic and hopeful which can only be a good thing, so I’m sticking with it. Shower’s pass.

Like the much less metaphorical shower that I’m waiting out right now on a bench seat in a bus shelter sized space at the zoo. Medium chance of showers in the morning and afternoon, said the forecast. Well we had morning showers, we had lunchtime showers so I thought I’d push on and do something with the day, pick up the momentum again after last week’s slow slog. And I nearly got it right. I’ve had sunshine and a nice breeze most of the time, it’s been lovely and cool after the rain, perfect weather for walking around the zoo! There was one light shower when I arrived so I ate lunch under shelter watching the capuchins get up to mischief, and then it was time to meet the boa constrictor inside the reptile house so it didn’t bother me; it was over by the time I came out. I’m nearly done at the zoo actually, but the rain set in. It’s been 10 minutes now; hope it clears soon cos me making a dash for it on slippery paths is nobody’s fantasy! I was so pleased that in stead of sitting home waiting for showers that may or may not come, I got myself out of the house and resumed ticking off my list again. I was thrilled that I’d got around the whole zoo and aquarium except one new section without any rain…bum bah, spoke too soon! It occurs to me now that at some stage this morning I did plan to bring my own new raincoat and this would have been the perfect use for it! Oh well, I remembered everything else: house keys, car keys, under shorts, tablets…you know, the things I typically forget!

And what do you know? The sun is coming out again! The drips are getting further apart in time and space, the dark clouds have passed, and it’s onwards and upwards! Off to see that new section then home for a nap. 3.5 hours of walking around is enough for one day.

Here’s my new favorite creature. I don’t know if the photo really shows what appealed to me but the otter is on its back, twisting and turning and rubbing it’s back on the floor with all 4 feet in the air just loving a good old scratch and stretch on its blanky. It looks like bliss!

IMG_5929.JPG

Could you just die of love looking at this adorable otter rolling around on its back in its bed, totally carefree and just luxuriating in the feeling of its rug rubbing on its body?

In other events, the moon being the closest to earth that it will be for another 20 years or so event was saved from being a wash out due to an overcast sky by the wind pushing the cloud cover on. So at 11pm when I couldn’t sleep because it was too bright outside, I got up  and found that the moon was clear in the sky and took a few shots. I don’t think they’re anything special, it was just being part of the event. I hadn’t done any research about the best place to be, what time to view it etc so my shots probably aren’t anything different to usual…but I can say I was there when, isn’t that what people go for?

In other news we had our annual interview by Living In Australia study tonight. I’ve been doing this for 13 years now so it’s fairly straight forward. If you haven’t heard of them check it out online; they’re always recruiting and you do get a cash payment for your time. The questions are abut your health, finances, future plans, how satisfied you are with the different aspects of your life and this year some fun number and word games. All the data is kept anonymous and presented as a summary at the end and used by different organisations for statistics. Anyway, hubby went first and I went second and I tell you by the time it got to me there were nail marks imprinted on my palms and  my stomach was churning and I was stressed! What am I going to say for occupation? How do I explain what I’m doing now? How do you explain why I changed jobs? Or why I don’t have a job? Or about my health? Or about where on a scale of 1 to 10 I think lies the likelihood of us having kids? Or or or…??? Argh!! AARRGGHH!! And right then and there, like a cornered wild animal, I got defensive fast and furiously!! I mean I didn’t attack the interviewer or anything, it was defensive inside myself, reacting internally to every question and justifying myself and defending myself and fighting fighting fighting with myself about why I am where I am and where I “should” be and yada yada. Oy!! Just a bit exhausting and is it really necessary? It feels necessary, but I’m not an impartial judge so…still some work to go there. Have I mentioned that I’m thinking of going back to my psychologist? Might be time. We ran out of things to talk about before, but they’re stacking up again, wouldn’t you say?

Canberra Day Twenty

Friday 30th September, 2016

It rained today. Again. A lot. It’s positively mushy underfoot! It can stop now, by the way. There’s plenty of water for everyone. More than plenty. I know we aren’t the worst off by any means but still. And the chill wind! Is it snowing somewhere?

I woke up bright and early at some outrageous hour because the thick clouds were creating a great wall of glare! Too stupid with sleep to shut the blinds, I slept intermittently til hubby got up and we both complained about it; just hadn’t done anything about it! So I got up for a shower (!) and breakfast, but couldn’t hack it. Back to bed, a good sleep this time, then up for some study to finish my CPD year which ends today, some lunch, and then the highlight of the day, if not the week; afternoon tea with a good friend from my Traralgon days. One of those brilliant people who you can catch up with after who knows how much time, and all manners of experiences and just pick right up and go with it! Awesome!

We had afternoon tea at Via Dolce right in central Canberra, and wow, what a place for decadent cakes and pastries! Definitely recommended. So a lovely cake on some gorgeous china, a wonderful chat about all manner of things, and just a feeling of well being to be catching up and enjoying life. Brilliant!! Then a wander around the Canberra Centre, kind of like Doncaster or Melbourne Central shopping centres in Melbourne, then trying to find the travelator that went to my car park; that took a while!! Some groceries for tea, some scripts dispensed, then home to our lovely hosts who are back from their cruise full of stories and happiness. A lovely meal together over green curry, and tomorrow we’re going to the beach! And it’s going to be 22 degrees and sunny! But that tale is for tomorrow. Chat later!

20160930_144010

Canberra Day Three

13th September, 2016

I promise that my posts are getting (okay, will get…) shorter as I progress through the 90 days that I anticipate I’ll be spending in Canberra! The writing to photo ratio is all wrong. And I’m aiming to get them in line with the days themselves; I’m confusing myself writing the day after!

It was a bit of a funny day. Same start to the day today, albeit more sluggishly cos I left going to bed, and more significantly taking my tablets, until 11pm. Meaning I was a bit “hung over” when it came time to wake up. Nevertheless, I jumped in the car early with hubby to drive into his work with him by 8am, then took over the wheel and started off on what is becoming my morning “pick a road at random and explore before breakfast” drive. I had woken up by then; I promise I didn’t drive hung over.

“Peak hour” traffic was really not a thing yesterday, at least not between Harrison and Dickson. Aiming to get to hubby’s work by 8am today did take a tad longer, like 4 minutes longer! I love the traffic!!! I might as well be back home in Shepparton, a town of 25,000. No waiting, no kilometre long lines of traffic, delays of half an hour – instead you just go where you want when you want and the traffic just flows. You could get used to it…

Today I headed south across the bridge over Lake Burley Griffin towards Parliament House then took a left and passed by what I assume are some of the embassies with flags in front of grand houses. The highlight was Mugga Drive in a suburb somewhere which has a fabulous view over the city and to the mountains beyond.

Home again for late breakfast, then writing up yesterday’s blog, trying to sort out the glitch in my website, adding the list of birds that I saw at Black Mountain yesterday into the ebird database, phaphing around doing nothing in particular but spending a lot of time! Oh, and unpacking my suitcases! That was fun, not. I mean, it had to be done sometime, but I was putting it off for some obscure reason. Anyway, its done. I forgot to bring clothes hangars but luckily our awesome hosts have spares. Then back to bed by lunchtime cos the drowsiness was just persisting and I couldn’t think straight!

Got myself up after a couple of hours, and even though the day had been a bit of a wash out, and nothing much in particular was happening, I just decided not to let that go any longer. Time to get my bike out and hit the trails, especially since the rest of the week could be rained out. So I did it. I pulled myself together (to me that’s the most impressive part), got dressed, got my gear together and didn’t forget anything, successfully drove there and back with the car on the roof and it stayed on the roof! Hubby has me on a training schedule and this week I’m doing 15 and 20km rides. Well, kicking that off I rode the western loop of Lake Burley Griffin by myself, and clocked up over 19.5km! And it was beautiful! The skies were really dramatic looking like they’d start raining any minute, and the lake was so still and the trees, the grass, everything was so lovely! Stand by for a Lake Burley Griffin portfolio! I stopped and started a bit too much to take photos; I got a bit cold, which is rare for me. It was challenging with “undulations” but so worth it. I’ll definitely do that again!

20160913_154033

So this has to be my photo for today. A bike ride on a not-so-hot day AFTER my nap, and late in the day when I could have decided not to bother. Pushing myself through the undulations, but loving the downhills. My first bike ride in Canberra. A solo ride, my first for Canberra. First ride around Lake Burley Griffin. Lots of things to celebrate! So here I am at 3.30pm deciding to make something of the day despite it all.

It should have been 16km, but I’m having some issues reading signs! Not literally, my vision is fine. But it’s like I decide what I’m doing to do before I even read the sign based on what makes sense to me, then I read but don’t register the sign, and carry on doing my own thing regardless. So far in the 3 days I’ve been in Canberra I’ve done 2 laps of the entire city in the car after missing my turn TWICE while trying to find my own way and refusing to use GPS, I’ve walked for 3.5 hours instead of 2 hours on Black Mountain cos I didn’t pay attention to where I should have parked and thought I was somewhere else, and now a 4km detour into the Australian National University because I skimmed the sign and thought I should go straight ahead instead of veer off! Oh and the shower. It’s a new shower to me and doesn’t have the symbols on it…tell me though, isn’t it always hot to the right and cold to the left on those mixer taps? Someone agree with me. I was getting very annoyed at whoever used up all the hot water, and my hair was half wet so now what was I going to go, etc, until my hubby pointed out that I was turning it the wrong way!! I feel that there must be a lesson here somewhere…

Lastly for the day, a really enjoyable night out with loads of new people at a baby shower for a girl I’ve sort of known over a few years, and reconnected with this year. I forgot that there would be so many new people until I was inside the door, which I’m really pleased about because it has happened twice in our 3 days that there’s been a bit group of new people, and I haven’t had any anxiety about it at all! Hubby and I agree that I’m not high, I’m not low, and we feel like maybe this is what normal will be like; and we’re happy with that. Some great days, some struggling days, and some middling days. Isn’t that life for someone who isn’t mentally or physically unwell? It’s not all excitement and performance, sometimes it’s just step by step. This would be my photo of the day if it weren’t for my bike ride.

Last thing.

I’ve finally had success getting more photos onto my website after a technical glitch. I have to commend Fran from Adobe for being super helpful! The link for yesterday is below, and there’ll be more to come with coming posts. I’m so pleased with my website and the individual portfolios!! I love my photography, it’s so satisfying and fulfilling. Having somewhere other than Facebook to share it, and share it professionally is so exciting! I really hope that you find something you enjoy, whether it’s scenery, birds, my journey in Canberra or life in general.

For more photos of today, see my website: Bike ride and baby shower

See also my Canberra Day Two photos: Black mountain views and Black Mountain Birds

One of those things

[written sunny Saturday 9th July, 2016; updated 12th July, 2016]

Today I brushed my teeth.

It shouldn’t be a big deal should it, but it is. No one can remember the last time that I brushed my teeth…last year? It’s terrible I know, and doesn’t exactly match my pharmacists’ health promotion ethos, does it? And it’s not something my husband relishes! Or others, possibly; I haven’t heard! But it’s just gotten to be one of those things. You know, those things? Things that you should do, but it’s just a bit too hard. So they’ve slipped down the priority scale, and dropped off the to-do list. I know I have new cavities from being so slack; I can feel them on the lower left side of my mouth when I eat hot food, drink cold drinks, eat something sugary etc. It’s going to need some attention and I’m happy to give it that, but I’ve got an insurance situation to sort out before I can afford it. Soon. Interestingly, or not, I pack my toothbrush every time I go away. I even pack my dental floss, the same dental floss that I’ve had since no one knows when! That’s extreme optimism for you, right there! I don’t know why I think it’s going to be different on holidays, why I think I’ll get it done. I guess it’s something to do with believing I’ll have more time on holidays, that I’ll feel differently on holidays, that everything will fall into place on holidays. But that’s not how it works, is it? What you have at home, your routines, your schedule, your habits, you take on holidays with you. So it just gets put off a little longer, and a little longer. I’ve never been great at this, but I’ve been a heck of a lot better than this, even committing to daily bleaching my teeth for 3 weeks once! It’s probably one of the bigger of those things.

Today I washed my hands.

That, of all things, should NOT be a big deal but washing and drying my hands has become a stand off with myself! It’s like a rebellion against something, I don’t even know what. But you’re supposed to wash your hands, yeah? Well I won’t! Terrible, childish thought process, I know. But it’s there, and it takes a lot of overcoming! Every time I should be washing my hands, this something rises up in me and I just sneak away without doing it. So silly, yet it persists. Obviously because I work in a hospital there are safety limits but a pump of alcohol or chemical based cleaner is a lot easier to me; maybe I should install a couple of home! It’s just one of those things. It’s not that I never wash my hands. If I think an activity warrants it, like dirt from gardening, dusty or greasy hands from my bike, food matter etc then yes they get a good wash; or a good rub down on a hand towel that will disguise it! I’m practically a kid when it comes to this! It’s the little times when my hands aren’t dirty, but its tradition (and probably hygiene!) like before a meal, after a meal, little things. In my mind. Probably not in others minds, but it feels like unnecessary energy that I can’t afford to waste, so I save my efforts for something more essential, as least to my way of thinking. It’s one of those things which seem like why wouldn’t you just do it, but I feel like it will take too much energy. It’s a fight with myself.

Today I walked one kilometer.

Walking, any walking, has become a big deal since I got sick. I never used to think about the things I asked my body to do. I walked as long as I needed, I ran for exercise, I loved swimming for fun, weights were my favourite form of exercise, I’ve done a couple of bootcamps including one at a boxing gym, pilates was my relaxation, and so on. But now, I struggle a lot with it! For various reasons, I suppose: I’m fat and heavy, I’m slow and sluggish, it takes energy and effort and motivation, I’d rather catch ANY other form of transportation, my legs rub together and chafe til they’re red raw unless I wear undershorts or leggings, it drains my mind and my body, and I’ve come to associate it with pain and suffering. I know, a little over dramatic! But there you have it, it’s one of those things! This walk in particular was slow, and it wasn’t for exercise; it was for bird watching and photography. But hey, it was outside in the sun and breeze, and it was a kilometer. I take it however I get it, and don’t sneeze at the little bits of exercise however they come. I’m meant to be exercising more. Well that was more than yesterday, more than the day before, and more in one go than I’d done for the whole week and probably longer so I’m counting it as a win!

Today I rode my bike.

And it reminded me that I do love my bike! I’d forgotten that. I quickly forget the joys, and never-endingly remember the pains; it’s not a good way to be! I keep planning to ride with Wheel Women and sign myself up for rides optimistically hoping I’ll feel like it by the time they comes around. But then I pull out closer to the day as it becomes clearer that not having left the house or changed out of PJs for 2 days, it really isn’t going to be likely that I’ll be up and dressed by 8.30am ready to drive 45 minutes across the city! Or I heave a sigh of relief when a planned ride is cancelled due to rain, path flooding or wild weather. Then I roll over and go back to sleep. Well that’s been the pattern lately while I haven’t been well. Before today I hadn’t ridden or been on my bike even since the 3rd of June! Five weeks out of it! I think I’ve had 5 weeks out of a lot of things, to be honest. It’s been reasonably bleak for me and with me, and that’s when all of these things, those things, fall away because it’s too much effort to keep them going. But flying downhill brought on that high, that endorphin burst and suddenly I was in my zone, loving it! And I flew all the way home, even up the hills, and that was that, I was back, mentally. And when you’re there mentally, you’re there!

Today I climbed hills on my bike.

If you know me and my riding, you know about me and hills; we have a difficult relationship! Frankly, right now, I’m not built for going up hills! My weight is very much against me when trying to defy gravity by going up. Nevertheless, the hills are there and they do come across my path, and at the end of the day I do have to get up them somehow. So when Wheel Women ran a class on climbing, cornering and descending, it sounded like exactly the skill set that I could benefit from! So how did I get to that class when I hadn’t gotten to any other rides? My innate cheapness!! I put down money for this class, little though it be, but it’s a powerful motivator in someone with Scottish blood, however diluted it be! And I did learn some super helpful tips to help me up those hills. And then I flew down them again, but that’s the fun bit, the bit that gives you a rush! The other bit, the climbing is different, but I guess it’s a means to an end if you like. It’s still hard. But I did it today! I conquered one of those things, at least for now.

At the end of the day, what a day?!

Better than I’ve had in quite a while! I’ve been struggling with depression lately and it has sucked, but suddenly on Thursday night when I woke up from my nap, something shifted! I was high, elevated in an energetic and motivated frame of mind. Just like that! If only I could click my fingers and get that result! Who on earth knows what it was that tipped me over, impossible to figure out. But YAY!

So what you’re seeing here is the chemicals in my brain giving me a booster shot to actually manage to do some of those things. I even cooked tea one night this week! Rare event these days! When the chemicals all line up, life is good. It’s easy, way less effort, far less forcing myself around. It just happens and we’re all relieved. And vice versa, you understand. But for now, for however little time I have this little break, it’s nice to use it to do something. It’s not perfect. My ride was still hard! The hills still hurt. My walking was still slow, although that was more for the sake of finding birds, and it wasn’t far, but still. I washed my hands but not all the time. And I brushed my teeth.

What I didn’t do today was shower. It’s probably the hugest of the things. To get into our shower you have to climb into the bathtub. Every time I think of having a shower, I think of having to hoick my leg over the side and it just seems like too much effort! It’s such a small thing, right, but it literally seems like it’s impossible. Once I’m in its great; I love a nice hot shower and feeling clean again, once I’m there. It’s just the getting started, which is after all, the issue with all of these things; getting started. It’s pretty much classic depression: issues with motivation, energy, self care. It is amazing what lengths I’ll go to not to have a shower, and how long I’ll go between showers. And by amazing, I also mean embarrassing! After Bali, I had a mega battle and I almost lost count but I think I went more than two weeks and no shower, and unwashed hair! You may have noticed! I still used deodorant and perfume so hopefully I didn’t stink, but it wasn’t a nice episode and finally my husband had to drag me to the shower and make me get in. And it was delightful! All that fuss and bother and argument, vanished, and I had a lovely time and came out feeling wonderful! It’s one of those things!!

That’s today [read: Saturday 9th July]. Tomorrow we have to wake up and do it again so we won’t get too carried away, but today those things have had a bit less hold over me.

So, the next day: Sunday morning, the hardest morning of the week. Mainly because I ideally would aim be up and going earlier than I may have done for the other 6 days of the week. But today I was up by 9am and actually feeling like I was up and going, not sluggish or doped out. My anticipation of the coming Sunday can mean that I go to bed late, and so not take my tablets til late just before I go to bed, and so I can be a bit sedated by the effect of my tablets lasting well into the morning. I have this contrary thought process that not going to bed will prolong the next day’s arrival…obviously it’s just the opposite. But it’s another reason why waking up Sunday is a complicated thing. Sunday morning is also traditionally when I wash my hair. I should really change that, if common sense prevails. It’s just another thing to get past to get to church: waking up, clearing my head, getting fed and watered and tabletted, showering, dressing and getting out the door not long after ten.

But today was pretty successful. I actually had a shower, and even dug out some moisturizer and did my legs! A miracle of a day! I’m energetic but not irritably manic, the best way to be. Touch wood for more days like these. I’m active, I’m wanting to fill in my day instead of hiding from it; I’m like a normal person!! YAY!

Minor issues

[Started Tuesday 27th October, 2015; continued Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and finally got to the point, sort of, on Saturday!!]

SOo I’m over my deadline again! It’s Tuesday, not Monday. And it’s Tuesday night! Oh dear.

I’ve been trying, but the other two pieces that I’ve been trying to get publish ready are just not ready. I need my chief editor, my husband, to review them and he’s away…poor me! Of course I’m joking about poor me, no poor me whatsoever.

But, since I’ve had some minor issues lately, let’s talk minor. I’m not sure who it is that decides what’s minor and major. I’m guessing someone who doesn’t have issues either major or minor, because if it was anyone with any issues, they would no doubt rate their own issues as major a fair bit of the time.

That’s what we’re like, isn’t it? Whatever affects us, feels like the most important thing going on. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just how we are. It’s hard to feel for an issue that doesn’t actually affect us, without a great deal of thought and effort, which we don’t always have to spare.

The issues that I’ve been having are medication related. Side effects; well side effect-ish. Sometimes they’re non specific and vague, or even unexpected and the dots don’t get connected.

You know that I’m a pharmacist, and therefore you expect me to know the side effects of medications. I expect that of myself as well, and I do know them; it’s my job. Naturally I can’t know every single one. The aim is that pharmacists know the majority of side effects, definitely the vital ones, and know where to look for the others in our reference books. Our mantra is: until proven otherwise, assume every symptom is a side effect. Umm, did I read that right? Hmm, seems that I may have forgotten that in relation to myself. Oops!

Side effects are ranked as common, uncommon and rare with a special mention for life threatening effects. Common side effects are those that we expect in around or upwards of 10% of patients; uncommon means around 1% occurrence; and rare is 0.1%. Something like that, as a general rule.

When I counsel a patient on a new medication, we talk about all of the common, and some of the uncommon, side effects, and we discuss rare side effects if they are very severe. Must say, I have been surprised at how much of this information I’ve retained despite such a long time off work! I quite expected to have forgotten a lot! But that part of my brain is still alive and kicking, fortunately! Learning it again would take a great deal of time and effort, and I think I’d give up before I began! So I’m glad that all I have to do is remember the path to that information, and it’s all sitting waiting for me.

Side effects don’t occur exactly as the math indicates, obviously; the math just gives us a ball park of what to expect when a patient takes a medication. Some patients never get side effects, some people get a really rough go with lots, some have one or two, and some people can’t even breathe the air of the pharmacy without developing severe side effects. It depends on all kinds of things; genetic, psychological, race, age, number of medications, how you process the medications through your kidney and liver, and more.

I know the side effects of my medications. But the pharmacies I’ve been to don’t know that. Some gave me CMI leaflets, some mentioned a side effect or two; but I’m ashamed to say that most of my pharmacy encounters have involved a pharmacy student or intern or practicing pharmacist handing me my medication and asking, have you got any questions? This is infuriating! How do people know what they don’t know, and therefore how can they ask questions? Pharmacists really need to pull up their socks on this! The responsibility is on the pharmacist to ensure the patient has enough knowledge to safely use the medication, and if I wasn’t a pharmacist myself, this would not have been the case with a single episode of having a script dispensed.

Did you know that 1 in 3 hospital admissions are medication related? That’s a very serious statistic. Imagine how that could be improved by pharmacy staff just taking a little extra care! I know they do care, and I understand that the sheer volume of workload is very oppressive, but surely we can do better.

Some of the side effects I’ve had have been textbook examples, and I actually find this very satisfying! It impresses me when what I’m experiencing is exactly what someone has described in the medical literature. How clever of them, and how observant! Of course when I say I’m impressed, I don’t mean that I like it, or appreciate it. But I think that the person who wrote it down was very intelligent, and perceptive especially for the era that they worked in which was often centuries ago, and the fact that we still find their information relevant however long later is such a testament to them.

So my textbook issues impress, but frustrate me: sweating, hunger, weight gain, sedation, increased blood pressure and cholesterol, suppressed thyroid, heart burn, memory impairment. And the consequences really get me wound up: chafing thighs, red face, jiggly bits, lethargy. Not all minor, of course.

But as an example, I would never have thought sweating was a big deal. So what? Everyone sweats. It’s just natural. Or perspires; if you’re ladylike! You’re exposed to heat, you exert yourself, you sweat. You wear deodorant to prevent smell, you take a towel to the gym, you shower as often as necessary; and that’s the end of the story. There was this one guy at my old job, an orderly, and by the time I walked into work at 8.30am he already had enormous arm pit, neck and back sweat patches going on. I felt very sorry for him, only a young guy! He is really a candidate for botox injections into his sweat glands to block them permanently and give him some dignity! Or aluminium deodorant, much easier and available at your friendly local pharmacy.

And now it’s me. As always the subtleties fascinate while irritating me. I don’t sweat how you’d think: armpits, back, neck line, like you get from exertion. I sweat like a normal person, with the addition of sweating on my face! Nice and visible, up front and prominent! In defence of this sweating I armed myself with a whole host of clinical anti-perspirant products: under arm roll-on, face gel, leg and groin gel, and used them liberally. Under arm: success, leg and groin: success, face: fail!! To be honest I’m not sure that the others do a lot, cos I don’t sweat there anyway…but the one I really need fails! Or just doesn’t work as much as I want it to, I guess! I’m a bit hap hazard with remembering to use it, but at the end of the day if its slightly warm, if the sun shines, if I have a shower, if I wear too tight or too much polyester clothing, if I get stressed or upset or nervous in any way, I sweat from my face!

sweating, cooling

My doctor recently gave me the medical reason: my core temperature has been increased by as much as one degree Celcius by my anti-depressant. It’s to do with the increase of serotonin. It doesn’t happen with all antidepressants; mainly the class that I’m on that also increases noradrenaline. 1 degree isn’t much as far as the outside temperature goes; I doubt you’d notice it. But our body is extremely finely tuned and our core temperature should always sit between 36.5 and 37.5 degrees. If you’ve ever had a fever you’ll know how crook you feel when your temperature is about 38.3 degrees. But that’s where I am all the time! I get hot, prickly, sweaty, slightly nauseated, and irritated at the rolling sweat beads multiple times a day!

My new comfort zone is when the outside weather is below 20 degrees. I’ll be the one in a T shirt deliberately sitting outside just soaking up what its like to not be hot, not be sweating, and just comfortably existing!

Is there a solution? Yes. It involves a maximum of two layers of thin cotton clothing, fans, air conditioners, face gel (might as well keep using it!), tissues, handkerchiefs, anything that will mop a brow, a bicycle to create my own breeze, and suppressing my pride. For every time someone looks at my forehead while talking to me, asks me if I’m okay because I’m sweating, every painful time I’m forced to use my hand to mop my brow because I’ve run out of nicer options, for every time I’m counselling a patient at the bedside with my hands full and sweat is starting to roll down my face! ARGH! I know I’m not the only one, but you can only feel your own problems, can’t you? No one else sweating makes me hot and prickly!

But, this is the only antidepressant that has ever truly worked for me, so I’m sticking with it! Reluctantly, unfortunately, but the show must go on. And if I’m not on this medicine, the show will rapidly cease to go on. This brings up an interesting concept: what side effects are you willing to exist with, in order to get the benefit of your medication?

A lot of people have asked me whether I’ve considered stopping my medication. The answer is distinctly NO!!! Seriously, without knowing anything about my condition, my medication, and the subtleties of mental health, how could you ever ask that? And IF you ask it of anyone, you have to be responsible for the outcome, which may be dire, just like a doctor would be!! I understand that you are asking out of care an concern, I do. But it’s not an option with me.

Some have asked whether I’ve considered natural therapies: well NO, I want medications proven to work. And the ONLY natural therapy with evidence for depression is St John’s Wort which is only recommended in mild to moderate depression, which is not what I have.

So this is life. I sweat, not that big a deal when you consider the grander scheme, but oh so degrading on a day to day basis. A minor, but not so minor problem. Still, it’s not a suppressed immune system, or clots in my legs, or a physical disability. I can live my life, mostly do what I want, and be functional. That’s a pretty good hand to be dealt!

I promise I won’t hate you if you can’t resist looking up when we next talk. I won’t be annoyed at you for noticing. It’s just how I am now, and I’m trying to roll with it. Because in the end it is worth it, you know? I couldn’t live before; now I can live pretty happily. It’s just this one thing, and that other thing, plus the other one that take some dealing with, but it’s okay. It’s worth it!

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!