Canberra Day Twenty Six

6th October, 2016

Well this is going to be short and sharp because its after midnight and I do REALLY need to get to bed. But I’ve been through today’s 700+ photos and reduced them to 200 odd which I’m pretty pleased about! Nothing left over to sort out. I’ve got good photos by now of several birds up here, so unless what I take is better then into the bin it goes. I’m battling storage space on my laptop and online and everywhere!! But I do so love taking photos, and the birds and scenery are just so enticing. I’m trying to become more satisfied with just looking, but recording for posterity is just so tempting, even if I never look at the photos again! So I’m spending some time with memories, going back through the archives and deleting whatever has turned out to be pointless or meaningless or unmemorable, or just a bad photo. And when I’m processing current photos I try to keep the same principles in mind.

Today was about hills and dales. I went back and finished the the woodlands walk this morning-afternoon: beautiful birds and the day was perfectly warm and sunny and lightly breezy; perfect! As I was walking around I noticed blue painted arrows on the fire trail path pointing in the opposite direction to what I was going. I ignored them because its a loop, so why would it matter? But I should have done the hilly section when I was fresh instead of at the end when I just wanted to sit down. Why aren’t there more seats sprinkled around walking tracks? The rest of the signage was lacking, as everywhere, until I got back to the main road where it’s not that necessary. As always, instead of following the map in my brochure or Google maps if it comes to that I just blundered on, and ended up doing an extra larger loop as well as the intended loop! How many times?? So I’ve now done a 7.2km walk on Tuesday, a 1.5km walk on Wednesday and a 5km walk today!! And I’m not even manic!! I’m just building my stamina. But I think that’s enough for now. Besides I’ve gotta get back on my bike; its been 10 days or more.

img_8530

Tomorrow is Rest Day. I planned on it being Inside Day cos I’ve really had more than enough sun over 3 days and I’m looking a bit red. But the weather is just so good; gotta make the most of it before it starts raining again! What I want is for this 3 month stint of free time to be over (not too soon!) and to be able to say that I’ve improved myself. That I’ve improved my cycling distances and hill climbing, that I’ve proven myself able to walk distances, times, durations, and profiles that I wouldn’t have previously thought possible. I can say that I have improved on all of these things so far, and that’s in almost a month. So let’s see what the next two months can bring. I’ve just got to plug away, like I did today. I don’t know if I’ll ever look at a hill and think, YAY I’m gonna run up that hill! But I know that if I go a little way, take a rest if needed, go a little way then I’ll get there. I learnt something very valuable recently when I was doing a hill climbing, cornering and descending class with my lovely Wheel Women: never look at the next hill from the top of the current hill; it will always look daunting. Wait until you get to the very bottom, and then look up. Try it; it really changes the rise from Mt Vesuvius to a little mole hill. The next most valuable thing I learnt: just take a small section of the hill and do that; don’t worry about doing the whole thing. Once you’ve done one section, worry about the next. Breaking it into chunks helps to achieve the climb, however you’re getting there. I think you can draw the relevant parallels in life. So that’s my plan! Slow and steady, winning the race.

Upbeat

Well let’s try something a little more upbeat, shall we?

– Amy Adams, Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

Time for some good news, don’t you think? The last 2 week’s blogs have been a tad depressing. But then again, that’s what we’re dealing with; depression. And it is depressing!

But, time for some good news. Just as long as you don’t think that’s how it actually works in real life. Good news following bad in a nice little ratio. It doesn’t happen neatly like that. The depressing topics can go on for quite a while without relief!

Thanks to my amazing psychiatrist I actually am feeling quite a bit better this week. My meds have been upped again and within 3 days of increasing the dose I was coming up from the depths and feeling better, and my energy and mood have kept on coming up. Thank goodness!

My belief has been renewed that it is possible to get properly medicated and live a reasonably normal life. I stopped believing over the last little while, thinking I was living a doomed life. I have been reminded how closely the analogy of diabetes fits my disease. When a diabetic’s sugar levels go off, they feel awful but they go to the doctor and the doctor changes the level of medication. I just forgot that I need to go to the doctor and ask for more meds when I start sinking; I tend to think it’s on me to fix myself, as if I could! I’ve been reminded very clearly this time that when I’m struggling, it’s not just that I’m struggling, but that there’s something chemical going on in my brain that needs a doctor to sort out. I need to recognize it, and ask for help. That sounds obvious, but it’s not obvious to me, not when I’m sick. I just blame myself, feel like I’m not doing enough to be better, and I hibernate.  So I’m reminded it’s the level of chemicals in my brain that are dictating how I’m going, and when I need more, I need more and I need to ask for it. I’ll try to remember for next time…

I have faith again now, faith that things can be better, and will get better, and will be better. Something I lost lately.

But if I wasn’t feeling better, I was planning to write something “positive” anyway.

You know, so you wouldn’t worry. So you wouldn’t think it was all bleak and dark. To balance out the last two posts. To alleviate your concerns and to reassure you that everything is okay. Because that’s what we do, or at least that’s what I do. People who are emotionally and mentally unwell.

I want you to know when things aren’t going well because I believe in my friends and family knowing the truth. I want you to know, I really do. I think it’s good for a lot of people to know how these things work; so you understand, and maybe so it’ll help you help someone else.

Until all the condolences roll in and everyone is so worried. Until dear friends get scared, and fret about how I am going. Then I think about you, and how it’s affecting you and it makes me anxious, thinking of more questions and concerns, and I back peddle. So sometimes I tell you its all good so you can relax. And so I can relax, and I’m no longer fielding afraid questions from loved ones. My husband says this is insulting to people. To coddle them, and not let them in on the whole truth. To decide what they can handle and what they can’t. To give them the amount of truth that I believe won’t overload them, and by extension, me.

I’m sorry to do this! I don’t mean to take control of the information stream, or insult you, or lie. But it quickly becomes too much for me. Despite this, I don’t want you to change a thing. Please don’t stop feeling concern, or asking me about what’s going on. I’m just letting you in on my crazy brain!

But I think this is a very common thing in people with mental illness. I read a piece recently about “smiling depression” and so many times it IS easier to smile. I try not to be fake, but it’s still my fall back, the easier option.

It’s not about restricting your access to information about my illness and how I’m going. Like I said, I want you to know; at least theoretically. I have a limited capacity for emotion, including other people’s, when I’m not well. This is why sometimes I still say “fine”, “okay”, “not bad”, “good thanks” to skirt the question of how I’m going. Because when I’m really not well, just a simple “how are you?” is enough to bring me to tears, and have I mentioned how much I hate crying? Especially in front of anyone else! But I’m trying to be honest and open, so bear with me.

Sometimes I want you to think I’m okay, or not so bad so I can slink back to bed without attention.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate your concern.

I want to promote understanding of mental illness, but sometimes the kind concern and loving questions, while so touching, are a lot to deal with when I’m operating at low emotional capacity! When I’m better it’s a lot easier to process and when I’m well it’s easy, just the same as you or anyone, but of course the same thoughts and  questions don’t apply then.

But I am well this week. I’ve got energy, motivation, stamina. I feel good! Everything is easier. I’m doing more, and it’s draining me less, and not exhausting me just to move. My husband is happy, the house is in a little bit shape, things are just good. So none of this is fake. These are the real positives that I can see clearly with my eyes right now. Yay!

  • I’ve gotten out of bed every day this week, and sometimes before noon! Really!
  • I’ve talked to a potential employer via email and on the phone, and done an in-person job interview
  • I’ve done groceries, dropped off some clothes to be mended, washed and dried sheets, posted some clothes for refund, tidied up my side of the bedroom, even cooked dinner one night! Don’t get your hopes too high though, that’s about all I’ve done!
  • I’ve been to my GP for an appointment, to a doctor for an ultrasound, to a careers counsellor for help getting a job, and to KFC when I couldn’t figure out what to eat for lunch! That’s a lot of outings and socialising for me! On the days I went out, I went to bed when I got home, usually for an hour and a half…but I didn’t nap on the days that I didn’t go out, so that’s something
  • All this out and about meant I got some sunshine on 2 separate days. Actually on the skin sunshine!

So that’s me for this week. It’s not a lot from the viewpoint of my old life, but these days I take whatever I can take, and this is relatively awesome!

How about you? How are you? I’d love to hear from you.

 

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!

Unwilling or unable?

Unwilling, or unable?

This is a difficult call to make.

It’s so subjective.

All that we have to go on is my opinion versus your opinion, with whatever evidence each of us has gathered plus whatever balancing knowledge we have at the time the call is made.

It’s something that I’m still battling with, and because I’m battling with it, I assume that there are others out there fighting with themselves over this. I don’t know for sure if there are, but I’m writing this anyway, for me and for anyone else who gets it.

Before I got sick. Such a statement! Also hard to define but I’ll use it anyway.

Before I got sick, I found this line easier to determine.

I’d get home from work, tired out and ready to relax and the thought of having to get together the where withal to get up and going again seemed impossible. Everyone has felt like that at some time.

So it comes down to a battle of the will.

I know I’m tired, will I allow myself to sit down and relax or will I get myself up and going to an exercise class I love and know I will enjoy/the supermarket for groceries to make a better dinner/the week night Bible study meeting which I’ll feel so refreshed after?

Will I, won’t I, will I, won’t I? It was a mental battle. From experience I knew that if I pushed myself I would get through whatever it was that I had planned on doing. It wasn’t physically impossible despite my tiredness. It was a matter of setting my mind to it being a non-negotiable task and doing it! Like work. You don’t wake up in the morning and think will I, won’t I go to work. You just get up, do what you have to to get organised and go!

Well at that stage I did. As the stress of my last job accumulated and compounded I did find myself waking up with a feeling of dread (hello anxiety!) and thinking do I really have to go? What if I just don’t go? What if I say I’m sick? What if I just stay in bed instead?

I guess I should have known that that was something else. That this was more than usual reluctance to get out of bed. I’ve always been a mid-morning person. Getting up has never been easy, but then again it had never been like this. Lying in bed watching the clock tick around to when I should be leaving. Feeling dread and stress and fear with a little smidgen of hope build up until I thought they could physically burst out of my chest.

But in our house growing up, the words “lazy-bones”, “wuss”, “sook” were tossed about like “hello”, “goodbye” and “how are you?”. As a consequence of those terrible words being acceptable to apply to children, I always question my own judgement towards myself, and wonder if indeed I am being a “wuss”, a “sook”, “weak”, “lazy”, lacking in having a backbone or courage or dedication or commitment or appropriate drive?

I think I’m learning these days to give myself more credit. To remember that I am a dedicated, committed professional who knows her responsibility in the workplace and fulfills her duties creditably; who wouldn’t “slack off” or “be lazy” or “not pull her weight” unless there was a solid decent reason. All words that no one else has used against me by the way, except for my old inner voice that I’m slowly chipping away.

I’m learning to know my limits and to communicate these to others. Not with the phrase “sorry to be a wuss but…”! With the phrase, “I have done x and y and z today and I’m pleased that I have accomplished so much. That is all that I can manage today. Thanks for your understanding”.

I think it’s called being assertive. Having been terrified of confrontation all my life I never really got the practice of asserting myself. I knew the theory but that only gets you so far. These days I’m realising that I am a person with valid opinions and thoughts. I’m finding that communicating this directly to others results in a better outcome for everyone. And I’m not so fearful of confrontation anymore. Because now I know that I am an equal part of the conversation/discussion/interview. I’m not the weaker part having to make up to the stronger part anymore. These are truly great days for my personal development!!

But it still comes down to this: what and where are the limits?

When is it enough without being too much? When could I push myself more? When am I taking it too far and risking exhaustion? Do I have more energy than I think I have? Could I maybe do just a little bit more, or should I call it a day?

How can anyone know the answers to these questions?

And then there are the other factors: I just don’t feel like talking to anyone today so I don’t want to go, I feel very anxious about going so I think it’d be better if I stayed home, I just can’t get my head together to go today, I’m too drowsy/sleepy/exhausted/tired.

I’ve been told to push myself, but to be careful not to exhaust myself. I’ve been told to learn to know my own body so it will tell me when enough is enough.

Who teaches these things? How can I learn these things? How can I know the difference between my body being tired and my mind being tired?

My body tricks me all the time. I’m sitting here an hour after a good dinner and my body is telling me it’s hungry. I know its not, but that’s not how it sees the situation! So how can I be sure about my body telling me when it has had enough? It feels like a marathon getting up, showered and dressed some days; my body tells me that it enough but surely that can’t be the limit.

If I can’t tell the limits, how can anyone else? I suppose this is my main point after all. Here’s me: I’ve got these limitations of conditions, medications, recuperation. How, considering all the variables, can any other person tell me what or how much or where or when I should be doing what I’m doing?

Not that many have tried, to give credit where credit is due. Most people have been endlessly helpful, patient with me in my disability, considerate of my limits and thoughtful of me in the middle trying to make me work.

I really do appreciate that!!

I guess it’s always a work in progress. The fact is that I can’t do everything that I would like to do; that’s just how it is right now. I am learning to accept these facts as they are without judging them or myself; that’s huge progress!

With the energy and motivation I do have, I do what I can. I get tired and worn out faster than I’d like. I don’t have the stamina I want. Some days I wake up and it’s just not my day. Then after a nap suddenly I’m firing on all cylinders again. And tomorrow, I might be rearing to go! I just don’t know, and can’t tell. It’s a trying, sometimes frustrating game trying to figure out my agenda for the week, or even the day, not knowing when or how or what I’ll be like with any definite prediction.

Another thing that it is very hard is to differentiate between what the condition causes and what the medication causes. Am I suffering from a side effect, or is this just the part of the condition that we haven’t got under control yet? I think only a trained doctor could answer that with any certainty, and maybe not even then.

So, in the meantime, I hope I’ll do what I can, but not too much, and hopefully figure out just what that is!!