Finding the light

Hello friends,

I’m back. Sorry about missing the blog last week! I tried. I came up with one draft, then discovered it was totally over-dramatic and not what I wanted to say. I did another one, but when I read it back over it just didn’t really seem like much of anything! So, here I am with two discarded drafts, no post for last week, overdue for this week and next week is coming around fast! A bit frustrated!

Why am I so stuck? Why am I spinning my wheels? I want to write about suicide, but this time it’s real, somebody that I used to know. And despite however much distance you’d think “used to know” would put between me and this event, it has gotten under my skin.

For people who suffer with mental illness, hearing about another person’s experiences can be a trigger for a worsening of your own condition. We’re so susceptible to worsening when we’re unwell. It’s different when we’re doing well; we’re resilient and strong. This is especially true abut suicide. Talking about suicide, hearing about suicide, reading about suicide can be a trigger for someone who is unwell to start thinking in circles, over and over about suicide. That’s not to say that someone can cause another person’s suicide. But to a person on the edge metaphorically, it only takes a tiny bump to over-balance.

I’m not suicidal. I’ll clear that up now, and relieve any worried minds. I’m actually doing quite well, but this event has given me pause to think about not being well. It’s quite a long time since I have been suicidal. I have been very fortunate that suicidal thoughts have only been a small part of what I’ve experienced over the last 3 years. I tend towards grey days, nothing dramatic. But still, hearing about someone I’ve known, someone who was one of my first childhood friends, someone who I grew up with ending their life creates a moment of questioning of the situation and myself.

Of course there’re so many questions that come with any death by suicide. Thankfully in this case some of those were answered before the last day. The family were well aware of the mental illness and very supportive of their son, including providing a flexible workplace. Relationships were good, things had seemed to be going well. But there was no questioning why he died because the answer was clear: mental illness. Of course there was the question of could we have done more? But the answer is no: medications, counselling, support all given in full. Just an overwhelming sense of wishing it hadn’t ended this way this soon, but feeling that maybe it couldn’t have gone any other way.

Could something have stopped it happening that day? Yes. Would that have stopped it ever happening? No. Could we the long lost friends have done more, kept in touch? Yes. Would it have changed anything? No. Because it’s not about us, the friends and family. It’s about the mental illness battle ground in a person’s head. However much we love someone and want to help them, we can’t climb inside their head and fight the fight for them. We can only do what we can do from the outside.

Someone with mental illness has different questions that are all for themselves. This person had depression, I have depression; he ended his life, so where does that leave me? If it took xyz for my friend to take his life, what would it take for me to get to that point? They took their life this way, could I do that; if not, what would I do? It’s like being inactively suicidal and contemplating ideas and theoretical points of view, but you have no plan to carry them out; no active suicidality (the medical term for being suicidal). It’s like ruminating on whether I’ll get to go on holidays this year, and if I do where will I go, and what luggage will I need to pack? When patients are actively suicidal they will often have their will written, letters completed to their family, plans for handing over the business and literally will have signed themselves out of their life having hoarded enough poison, collected enough rope, built up the nerve to jump in front of the train etc. Then again sometimes it’s pure impulse on a background of ongoing suicidal thoughts that are just eating away at your will to live. A tipping point is reached, and that’s that.

So I’ve had a period of questioning myself: how am I? Am I doing okay? Are things still under control like they were before I heard the news? I run through my “on the edge” symptom check but there are no tell tales signs; maybe I’m a bit more shaky in my left hand, maybe I’m a touch more anxious, a bit more fixated on anything changing. But after giving myself a few days to take the impact of the news, attend the funeral and debrief, things are okay. I’ve gotten through a potential trigger okay.

Which is bully for me! For the family, the friends grieving now and for a good while to come, where is the light? Where are they to look to find something good out of this? One place that I’ve found comfort is to see the men and boys in my old friends life passing the okay sign around on Facebook in a campaign to vow to listen to each other, to talk about mental illness and suicide, and to try to prevent this from happening again. This has to be one of the best ways to commemorate a death by suicide; a pledge to fight it’s influence and talk about it openly.

I know that its difficult for people to talk about this awful thing that’s happening in their heads. And it’s hard for others to hear what they have to say about it! But we have to be brave; be strong and talk about it. Bringing it out into the daylight is the only way to make it less scary, and to take away its power over us. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. And remember the souls who couldn’t fight it’s power anymore. It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t mean it or even want it, but they were overpowered. Remember that. They were fighting the battle and lost, through no fault of their own. Remember them. Talk about them. Share their story. There is someone out there that you can help if you talk about suicide.

Check out Conversations Matter for videos, fact sheets and resources for talking about suicide.

Use one of the umpteen helpline services that are available in this country. You don’t have to have a mental illness to call. You can call to talk about a friend, someone you knew who died, or just to learn more about mental health. So many people are reluctant to call, so go ahead and buck the trend! Call! Ask questions, learn things, talk to someone on the end of the line anonymously before you talk to a friend. Whatever you do, do something to improve awareness of suicide and prevent it occurring again.

beyondblue 1300 22 4636

SANE 1800 18 7263

Lifeline 13 11 14 (crisis support and suicide prevention service)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide)

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (5 to 25 years old)

Victorian State Suicide Help Line 1300 651 251

Mensline 1300 78 9978

Veterans and veterans families counselling service 1800 011 046

Qlife 1800 184 527 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities)

Carers Australia 1800 242 636

Many more helpful phone numbers and web sites can be found at Mental Health Commission’s Get help page

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Perspective

[Written in 2014, finally finished today!]

One of the techniques that I’ve been working on is looking at life differently.

My psychologist first got me onto this with a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which tries to redirect thought processes.

For example, people with anxiety and depression often catastropise. I would have a thought like, I’m not working at the moment, which would then lead to, I’m not contributing to our finances, my husband is looking after everything and I’m doing nothing, and, what if I never work again and become a vegetable, and I’m totally useless and live forever with other people having to take care of me, and hating me!!

Obviously, to an outsider this is a drastic way of thinking and a rapidly snowballing thought process! Which is not even factual, as I’ve never had it suggested to me even once that I will be doing anything but returning to my previous active, contributing life. Neither is it at all likely! But depression just has to nut out the worst case scenarios and get you to think, ‘what if’?! And the thing is, at the time, you can’t see it for what it is. It feels totally real, and scary, and awful even though other people may dismiss it as illogical.

Depression, does not have logic.

But depressive thoughts can be changed. It isn’t easy, but if you work at it in the right way, you can slow or stop the snowballing and start to prevent the catastrophising.

Around the same time as I started to see my psychologist, I was already involved in the 100 Happy Days photo challenge that I’ve talked to you about before. Happy. Depression. The two don’t naturally go hand in hand. They’re kind of opposites. Making this a real challenge! This involved, every day, taking a photo of something that made you happy. I knew I was suffering generalised anxiety when I took it on, and during the course of the challenge got diagnosed with depression and bipolar.

Finding something in the day that makes you truly happy takes a real change in thinking. It takes noticing the detail in the day, the little things that are often overlooked, appreciating what is often taken for granted.

These were not the happiest days of my life! Needless to say. In fact, some of the worst days that I have ever experienced were smack bang in the middle of the challenge. But did you know that it never once crossed my mind to not go on with the challenge? I never once considered not doing the challenge, even when I was sitting in the emergency department beside myself with suicidal thoughts and in so much mental pain that I didn’t know how I would live. My happy day photo that day? I was wearing my favourite dress with the huge rosettes around the hem and I was eating my favourite Snickers bar!

There’s always something. That’s what the challenge taught me before I was even conscious of it.

Depression is called depression because it’s depressing.

It lowers you down, it lowers your mood, it lowers your mind. It’s the mind version of walking along in life looking at the gutter. All you can see is the dirty, the trashy, the boring, the bleak, the wasteful, the dead, the mundane.

I’ve always been a stare at the ground in front of me and watch for snakes kind of girl. You know, just in case. But now, instead of physically looking down and stomping along to the train to go to work, I started looking up, casting my eyes around me and began to see all kinds of things in that 10 minute walk alone. The wood ducks nibbling on grass beside the path; never even knew they were there! How beautiful the pond looked shimmering in the morning like. How green was the grass, how blue was the sky. How beautifully kept that lady’s roses are so close to busy Box Hill Central!

And it got me mentally looking up. Instead of snoozing my alarm until the last possible minute, and dragging myself begrudgingly out of bed, I started to wake up wondering what I would see today that would make me happy. There is no mistaking that my mental health was in a dire situation, but at least for a few moments of the day there would be something that I found that would give me a glimmer of a smile, a bit of satisfaction because I found it! That thing that could make me happy. And the memory of it could be taken with me throughout the day. It truly proved to me that if you put yourself to the effort of looking up, mentally or physically, you will surely be rewarded.

So in an effort to lift one’s mind’s eye to a more beautiful view we try this technique of purposefully, intentionally looking up. Some call it mindfulness, some call it practising gratitude, some people call it thankfulness; doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s a thing. A method to get out of the grunge and into the pretty meadows, or paddocks since this is Australia.

Probably this is the most powerful method of changing perspective, although I’ve way under used it! I came to it as a compulsory part of my insurance, and having someone tell you that you have to do something that you think is stupid is never a good starting place!! But I had to change my thinking. I had an amazing logical sensible teacher who was on my wavelength, and the lessons I learned were incredible!

Mindfulness teaches you to slow down, to take more time to take in the things that we usually just rush by. By doing this, you get greater fulfillment out of life.

I’ve also always been a person to try to scrape the most out of every second, minute, hour, moment. I always got up at the last possible moment, showered for as long as possible til I absolutely had to get out, dressed as fast as possible and left the house only when leaving a minute later would make me nine minutes late instead of eight! Because I was always rushing I’d often leave my lunch, my wallet, my phone, my brain at home! I always squeezed the most time possible into my breaks, felt jibbed every time I had to go back, put off going back to bed so I could fit more into the day. Etc, etc!

But anxiety made me realise that this is not a feasible way for me to live anymore. The extreme anxiety I feel when I’m rushing, late, overcommitted is so awful with the nausea, the sweating, the palpitations. And mindfulness reinforced this again. What if you could walk slowly and calmly without a care in the walk on your way to work? How would that be? Wouldn’t that be nice? Mindfulness is kind of addictive in it’s own way, because it’s highly rewarding to your brain. Of course then there’s the real world, but for a little while, you are in total control and that is amazing!

Mindfulness also teaches you how not to judge yourself and others!! Could there be a more powerful tool than this? In mindfulness, you sit with yourself, which sounds funny to start with, but you just sit with your thoughts and all you have to do is acknowledge each thought as it comes, without it being “good” or “bad”. Do you know how often we are bagging ourselves out in our head and we don’t even consciously know it? It’s terrifying! That’s the worst 3 second wrap ever, but I do highly recommend it, and not only for people with mental health disorders; it can help with a lot in life.

Changing perspective.

Looking for the happy, the good, the joyful things in life.

Some people call it being positive, but I’m not a fan of that description. I feel like being positive is ignoring the reality and the badness, and trying to paste over it with being chipper and perky and upbeat!! Maybe that’s unfair but I feel my arm hairs raise and my spine tighten when positive comes up!!

I prefer to fully acknowledge exactly what is present, what the problems are, and try to work with that to change it for the long term good, not for the short term glossing over it. I’m sorry if that’s offensive; but I feel that if the problems aren’t realised, the treatments won’t be effective so it’s important to be honest.

Changing perspective is hard. It’s hard. It takes effort. It takes perseverance. It takes time. It takes motivation. It takes emotional energy, sometimes physical energy.

Most of these are the things that depression takes away from you. Before you even have a chance to notice, depression whisks away your energy, motivation, ability to exert effort. And leaving you a blob sitting in a chair, staring at a wall wondering what to do next, and how on earth you’re going to do it?

Looking up. Changing perspective. Mindfulness. Gratitude.

The outcomes are so worthwhile if you can put yourself to the trouble.

I highly recommend engaging a psychologist, a mindfulness coach, a doctor trained in CBT because it’s much easier to be guided than to have to do it all yourself. If the session is pre-booked and all you have to do is turn up and be coached, you are already on an easier path, from someone who knows.

Of course you have to participate, and at some point in time you will have to do it on your own, but let’s focus on getting started and you will absolutely benefit from whichever path you go down.

100 happy days is different. You can do this on your own, and unlike me doing it all through Facebook, you can do it by yourself in a notebook and nobody has to know. I can’t recommend blurting everything about your journey onto Facebook like I did; it worked for me, but not so sure about all the poor readers, and it might just not be something you are comfortable with. It’s your call, and there are lots of other options out there.

I wish you well on your perspective changing journey!

Saturday Shoutout

I have hedged around this and hinted at in and mentioned it obliquely but it’s time for some straight speaking about an important part of my life.

My peeps.

Specifically, my psychologist, my psychiatrist and my GP.

My support crew.

Without them, I don’t know where I would be. Literally and figuratively. Would I be in a psychiatry ward in a hospital? Would I be in rehab? Would I be doing a lot worse than am I now? Would I be a vegetable in bed? They have stood by me, held me up, dealt with me, kick-started me, bucked me up and saved my life.

I don’t say this lightly.

They saved my life! They’re that important.

Everything I say here has what to me is an obvious unwritten addendum: as well as my husband. He is the most important person in my life and has been my most supportive friend through every hill and valley, through every new discovery and every boring pushing-on day, through every heartache and excitement. He is so critical in my life but there are times in life when you need to call in the experts!

And these times have been the last year!

My aim today is to give a shout out to my current team because I truly do owe my life to these people. There are other people who have also been hugely helpful to me and I acknowledge them mentally; they might get a write up another day.

Starting with my local doctor, my general practitioner or GP, Dr Richard Young.

I came to see him accidentally after a false start with the GP that I used to see back when I was at uni. She charged a fortune and didn’t give me any confidence that she knew what she was doing. In fact she said to me, I’ll ask my colleagues and check some textbooks; can you come back next week? Well no I couldn’t wait a week, I needed help now! I complained to a colleague at work that I didn’t know where to start looking for a good GP and that I wanted to find one close to work.and who didn’t cost me so much and she handed me a business card for this doctor. I rate this as the best recommendation I have ever had and am always so thankful to her for this!

I didn’t tell this colleague why I needed to see a doctor and yet she gave me a recommendation for a doctor with a special interest in mental health, and who sees many patients with depression and anxiety. That was lucky number one. Lucky number two was the location of the clinic, within a 5 minute walk from work! Could anything be more perfect? I could easily slip away from work in my lunch break, between discharges, after ward rounds etc for my 15 minute appointment. And lucky amazing number three is bulk billing for mental health patients! That is, no fee to pay for each visit! Thank you infinity for this amazing policy that has benefited me and my husband so much!

Richard is a young enough doctor to have passion for his job in spades, old enough to have experience and knowledge and confidence, and has bedside manner and compassion like you dream of in a doctor!

His knowledge of the health system is unsurpassed. I have attended many different GPs in my old clinic last year as well as here, and have never experienced such thorough care! I have cervical migraines; I get Medicare subsidised visits to a physiotherapist. I’m gaining weight on medication; I get some of those visits changed to see a dietician. I have deficiencies; I get treated. I have risk factors; I see the practice nurse to develop a care plan for how I will reduce my risk factors. I have depression/anxiety and need help managing my symptoms; I get ten Medicare subsidised visits to a psychologist, and when I use them all up, I get more! We need help managing the medications; I get Medicare subsidised visits to the psychiatrist. And most importantly, when I’m suicidal he doesn’t let me go home; he sends me straight to the hospital where I can be cared for and a new plan can be made for my treatment.

You get the picture: this doctor is amazing! There is nothing I have that he can’t fix me up with the appropriate health professional or service!

After 8 months of seeing Richard once a week every week I have no complaints! I have had to wait on occasion, I have had to be rushed through on occasion but I have proved abundantly that when I have acute and severe needs, I will be given as much time and attention as I need and be cared for exactly how I need. How I want not always; but always how I need. I think you do need to give credit where it is due and understand the limitations of the medical system and within those limits I have been wonderfully and carefully looked after!

I would absolutely recommend Richard to anyone!

It is due to Richard’s amazing insight and care that I was first given a referral to see a psychologist. Unfortunately the first lady I saw did not connect with me at all, and in fact I left worse than I arrived!! Crying going down the steps is not the right way to go. So Richard promptly organised for me to be assigned another psychologist and I have loved her since the first meeting!

Patty Sabbagh from the Nexus Psychology group is her name and place.

She has seen me through all kinds of scenarios. Happy, sad, suicidal, excited about life, demotivated, purposeful and everything in between are the ways that I have turned up at her door and she has adapted and given me real help and hope and a new way on from every problem! She has helped me to deal with all kinds of issues, she is so resourceful and like a good friend. Sometimes I have gone and its just been a good chat with an understanding fellow human that I needed, and she has been a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on and a clever therapist able to give me a better way to fight on. A mother, a friend, a support; all labels I could give her and more!

She listens and considers and recommends the best approach. Sometimes talking about it really does solve the problem, sometimes a new way of looking or thinking about an issue is needed, sometimes there is need for meditation, or mindfulness, or cognitive behavioural therapy. Whatever is needed, this talented psychologist and counselor has the remedy!

Anyone in trouble needing someone to help would be well advised to seek the help of Patty from Nexus Psychology or one of her colleagues.

Lastly my newest support crew member, and one who has changed my life. Another big statement but well deserved! My psychiatrist, Dr Ian Katz.

He entered later in the picture because I initially saw a psychiatrist as part of my outpatient follow up from being in the emergency department of the local hospital. He was the one who suggested cautiously that bipolar was indeed a possibility and who first started me on a mood stabiliser. However his role is to see patients in the short term then send them back to their GP to be managed. Which is what happened.

My GP and I went along with the plan for Seroquel and for a while we seemed to be winning. Then that started to fall apart and my GP gave me the referral for Dr Katz. He picked up the pieces, made a sensible picture out of it all and gave me a ‘wait and watch’ directive and asked me to come back in a few weeks. I returned with a history of the most manic-like state that had happened to me so far coupled with a long period of depression and the diagnosis of bipolar was complete. He prescribed lithium, one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time, and things have been improving ever since! He calls it “the game changer”; I call it a life changer!!

I have been so impressed with Dr Katz because of his huge capacity to listen, and hear all the information then process it in a logical and helpful manner. He will then set out a considered, clinically sound plan and make everything clear and easy for me, the patient. That takes a huge lot of knowledge, skill, patience, kindness and clinical experience to attain and I think there are very few other clinicians like him. In addition, his commitment to his work amazes me. I have had appointments at 6.45pm, 8pm and 9pm!! Thank you for that!

I have a very high respect for his opinion and his directions and am just so grateful to him for being the one to really turn my life around!

So there you have it. The three most important people in my life just now, besides my husband. Three people who have left a permanent impression on my mind, and my heart really. Conditions like bipolar absolutely need to have this three pronged approach, which in the past was not such a priority but I would not give up either one of these three for anything! Each has a separate but vital role, and each one contributes in a different way to my overall mental and physical health.

I don’t think I could step into any of their shoes, even assuming I had the appropriate training. They each have some strength of character to do what they do that is beyond my understanding but its so important to me that they continue to do what they do.

I don’t know when they take holidays, I don’t know how their families cope with their dedication to their jobs but I know that without them I wouldn’t know where to go or who to turn to and I am forever grateful to them, and everyone like them who works for us, the patients.

Suicide *warning: the following material may be very disturbing*

Author’s note: I wrote this piece two weeks ago. Then while re-reading it prior to publishing I had some reservations. My personal editor (aka my husband) also had some reservations about how it would affect other people so we decided to wait a while and see if we really wanted to publish this.

I’ve decided that I do want to write publicly about this issue. I apologise if it is disturbing, or frightening, or confrontational, or triggers emotions that are hard to deal with.

I can write about this issue openly now that I am past these horror days and now that I feel reasonably confident that I won’t experience them again, at least nowhere near the depths that I did sink to before. Thanks to an antidepressant and two mood stabilisers, and a team of psychologist, psychiatrist, very accessible and caring GP, fabulous husband and great friends!!

But I do feel that the population of the world fortunate enough never to plunge to these awful depths should have some understanding of the suffering that is out and about in the world, walking around trying to contain their sorrow and hurt. My favourite saying comes to mind:

“Always be kind. Every person you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

lease PLEASE remember that however impossible it feels, severe depression can be survived. It doesn’t feel like but just ask for help and let someone in! Tell your partner, your friend, your family, your colleague, a local doctor or go to the local emergency department. Tell someone; don’t suffer alone!! You know the numbers:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467

Men’s Line Australia: 1300 789 978

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800

Employee Assistance Program (employees of public hospitals): 1300 361 008

beyond blue: 1300 22 4636

Suicide Line (Victoria only): 1300 651 251

Suicide Prevention Foundation: 1300 465 366

So here we go!

Suicide. Death by one’s self.

We don’t talk about it enough.

It’s taboo. It’s avoided, ignored, swept out of sight.

There can be sense of shame about it. Some consider it selfish.

In some places and in some era’s it is and has been illegal.

Some insurance companies won’t pay out life insurance policies if a death is determined to be a suicide.

Yet, along the death spectrum a ways, people campaign for euthanasia, the right to kill oneself if life becomes physically unbearable.

What about when life becomes emotionally unbearable? Mentally unbearable? Somehow people never consider the rights of a person suffering in this way.

But this is a dreadful, terrible, awful way to suffer.

Why are we sympathetic to cancer patients with terminal illness suffering physical agony but don’t give the same thought to mentally ill people suffering emotional agony without relief?

And to some people there seems to be or is no end in sight; treatments that don’t work or take too much time to work, emotional turmoil with no relief, desperation. What then?

Personally, I don’t believe suicide is right. Morally, that is. I believe what the Bible says: thou shall not kill, including oneself.

But it was a whole different story when I found myself in the grips of severe depression and assailed with suicidal thoughts.

Suicidal wasn’t about self-harm and ending my life. Initially.

It was about feeling terribly awful in the midst of my perfect life, so awful that I didn’t know if I could survive, if I would ever feel good or well again and I just wanted a break!

It was about dragging myself through the motions every day and wondering if I would ever feel like every physical step wasn’t a tiresome chore. It was about emotionally forcing myself through the duties of the day, pasting a smile on my face and coping when I felt like crawling into bed and never coming out.

I wanted an escape, to step into a time warp that would take me out of my life for as long as it took for the depression to go away. Then I could just step back into my life and take off where I’d left off, minus the awful distress.

I wanted the escape, but didn’t know how to get it. I was on two antidepressants, an unusual combination and a bit risky. But that was what it took to get me feeling better and sleeping. To start with, but then I started having odd thoughts as my mood took a steep dive downwards, the first time I experienced what I would later find out was a mood swing.

What would happen if I just stepped out in front of the bus? If I just took one step out…

Would it hurt? Would I just die or would I be injured and gain nothing but more pain?

I’ve always been against the idea of committing suicide by using another person driving a vehicle. I’ve called it selfish. I’ve called it unfair and sympathised with train, bus, truck and car drivers used in this awful way.

Is this karma? To be wondering whether I would actually take that step? To be thinking not about the awfulness that the driver would experience, but to be wondering if I could be that person? Wondering if it would solve my problems? If it would just take everything away so I didn’t have to try to deal with it day by day by day.

I’ve always been nervous about people standing close to the edge at train stations. I’ve always been half-prepared to see something so awful that it would damage me for life.

But then nothing happened and this mental disease arrived, bit by bit. Maybe it was the anxiety in me the whole time, all these years worrying and thinking about such things.

This was my thought process, back then, before I went to hospital.

I could never jump in front of a train. I’ve read ‘Dear Miffy’ by John Marsden. I know what happens when a jump in front of a train is misjudged! I don’t want to be in a wheelchair or completely dependant on someone else.

I don’t think I would jump in front of a car; too small, more likely to end up alive and well with a couple of broken bones. So that’s out.

So that leaves a bus.

Or an overdose. But I know that the medications that I’m taking are relatively safe in overdose. They won’t kill me. I’ll maybe sleep for a while then wake up back where I started. With the added stigma of having tried to kill myself!

I don’t want that for me, but mostly I don’t want that for my husband. I don’t want to leave him with the bill, so to speak. He doesn’t deserve a life of questioning what went wrong, where could he have done something or done it differently, of blame. He doesn’t deserve any of that. No one deserves that. So I came to this: I can’t do any of those things. I have to keep on going, to keep trying, to keep fighting. Because I can’t do that to him. But it’s so hard!

Another day I got to thinking again: what if I just jumped off these rocks into the crash of waves breaking? Would it hurt? How long would it take? Would someone rescue me? Would it just be easy and instant?

What about sharps? One of my horrors is paper cuts to my eyelids, no idea why! But I’m always super careful around knives and I hate blades, which is why I now wax instead of shave; I’ve cut myself enough times as a total accident to give away shaving! And our knife set is new and super sharp, but I don’t think I could ever do that.

I don’t have a gun and I wouldn’t know what to do with it.

What about painkillers? I don’t have any above supermarket strength and I know they don’t work in overdose, it’s just long slow painful illness of liver failure that can take forever and is a terrible idea. Or bleeding, also slow and awful, not at all a solution.

I’m not great with heights, I just know I could never make myself jump.

So, all out of ideas.

And that’s how I came to be in my doctor’s office at midday on a Monday, bawling my eyes out.

The doctor asked me, have you had any suicidal thoughts? Yes, I sobbed.

Do you have a plan to harm yourself? No, because I can’t think of a way that would work! Sobbing harder and harder.

If I let you go, can you promise me that you won’t hurt yourself? I don’t know, I think so but I’m not sure, I feel so terrible! Sobbing, and sobbing, and sobbing!

A terrible, awful point for me in such despair and not even able to come up with a good way out. Still believing that it’s wrong, but needing so badly some relief! Just a few hours off, just a day of rest from the hurt and chaos in my mind!

Which I did get, later. I took a Valium on the way to the hospital, they gave me another one in the emergency department a few hours later. I slept then, for a few hours. That was just what I needed. But then I woke up and they wouldn’t keep me. As desperate and at the end of my rope as I was, they sent me home.

With 2 temazepam, double the usual dose of this sleeping pill. Which gave me another 8 hours of absence until I could come to terms with going on, dealing with a new day, another battle, keeping on keeping on. Until they could send members from the outpatient psychiatry team to visit and help me.

And then they started the long path to bring me back to today.

Starting new medications, changing doses, scrapping that one, starting another one, altering, fiddling, trying and failing and trying again in the long haul to now, a better day.

Today it is 77 days since I was in the emergency department of my local hospital (author’s note: written two weeks ago). Not the hospital I work at, another one near home. I could never have gone in that state to work and shown any of my colleagues the face under my usual coping face.

77 days. None of them spent working. All of them spent here at home. Making tiny steps of progress, going backward, coming forward, a couple steps one way, another few the other way, teetering backward and forward on the scale from deep depression to hypomania and somehow, at long last, feeling like I’ve settled in the middle around a place that I could call home, somewhere around about “normal”.

My husband in fact thinks maybe I’m better than “normal”. He sees now that maybe I’ve never been as good as I am now.

Sure I still get tired, and have the odd afternoon nap. But I’m more productive, I’m more energetic, I’m more engaged, I’m enjoying life, I’m driving a bit, I’m shopping a bit, I’m doing the dishes occasionally, the laundry sometimes, making the bed some days, hosting visitors rarely, doing day trips every now and then, actually living my life 🙂

We know there will still be days that are further toward one end of the scale or the other. The aim of all the treatment is to not go so far toward either end. My personal goal is to never ever in my whole entire life get anywhere near as deeply depressed as I have been. I don’t ever want to see the shape or colour of that place ever again!!

But we’re living life, and enjoying life! That’s something to be deeply grateful for every day. We’re alive, and relatively well, and life is good! Well, better anyway. That’s something.

I want to live life to the fullest. It’s a cliche, but that’s what I want. My aim is to enjoy every day that I can enjoy because depression is not ruling my life with it’s inability to enjoy pleasure, or it’s sadness, and hopelessness, and pointlessness.

Now ruling my life is just…life. Just life. Getting less complicated, more predictable, more fun! Yes, it takes an solid dose of antidepressant and a good going dose of two mood stabilisers/anti-psychotics. It takes weekly visits with my GP and psychologist, and fortnightly visit to my psychiatrist. It takes good doses of friends and hobbies and enjoyable activities. Who cares? What works, works and I have no argument against that!

Link: how to talk about suicide

Choices

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So here I am. Bright, beautiful autumn day, not quite 10am in the morning and I’m in the gorgeous Fitzroy Gardens wandering my way back to the city. What a fabulous way to pass the day!! And that’s right, not quite 10am and I’ve gotten out of bed, dressed, had breakfast, walked to the station, caught a train then a tram to an appointment and now I’m out the other side, carefree and almost dancing my way along. It’s a sweet happy day.

In my mind is always the question, is it a too happy day? Am I tipping the scale into the slightly manic?

Today, the answer is: I don’t really mind, I’m happy, it’s a good day and I’m out lapping it up 🙂

Why up so early? Two answers.

1) I’ve changed over antidepressants, again! I’m up to number 7 now, all within 12 months! 5 of them in the last 6 months! It’s been hectic up in my brain!! But to tell the truth, number 7 is actually a repeat of number 2 which I really liked and had to stop because of side effects. So I’m “cautiously optimistic” as my doctor would say, but keeping in mind that I may have to stop this one again. Which would be very disappointing cos so far I’m loving me with this drug in my system! It’s been all of 4 days but it’s made the most amazing difference! I now wake up at 5.30 – 6am like I used to when I was first starting antidepressants again in December.

Which is an incredible change from dragging myself out of a stupor at 9.30am to try to start the day, cutting out all non-essentials sometimes including showering and doing my hair. Now I’m up and ready to start the day with the normal people 🙂 And I still get a pretty solid sleep thanks to my mood stabilisers, although it is a bit more fragmented. But I’ll take that over being doped out!

2) I have a 9am sharp appointment with a private psychiatrist. So far I’ve only seen one psychiatrist, not sure if he was a fully fledged psychiatrist or one in training but I really like him either way. He was friendly, professional, asked questions no-one had asked before and got really quite a lot of information out of me.That was way back now, in early March, two days after I was sent to emergency suicidal and utterly despairing. That day that I saw the last psychiatrist was the day when I realised that the question mark over me having bipolar disorder did actually make a lot of sense. Because from acutely suicidal on Monday night, to that Wednesday midday was the biggest change you could possibly see in a person! By Wednesday morning I was happy, active, energetic, motivated, full of life and ready to go gangbusters!! It really was that dramatic and gave a lot of credence to that theory.

This visit is not at all acute, it’s really like an all over review of my treatment to date and making a plan into the future with the expertise of the specialist. I’m very happy and confident in my GP but a second opinion and eye on the situation never hurts. So yes, 9am sharp! Which a week ago would have been physically impossible but today it’s all good! Yay for that!

So, choices. I loved coming to this point in the path and having the options. Where to go?

I have been given choices in my treatment. Choices about where to next, about what’s tolerable and what’s not, about what’s important to me.

Given the choice between flat, unmotivated and doped out or somewhat anxious and a bit zingy I chose pumped up. So I know I have to take the lesser quality sleep, shaking hands and faint but persistent feeling of something not quite right. It’s been a while, I must say I’d forgotten just what it was like to have my heart on full alert all day. That vague feeling of anxiety about anything and everything, but at least I’m functioning and out enjoying the day instead of thinking about dragging myself out of my slumber.

I chose anxious over depressed. Because I can handle anxiety. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for months now so I have the strategies, the coping techniques, the knowledge of triggers and stressors. So although it’s not what I’d chose given a choice between anxious and not anxious, it’s what I chose over depression.

Depression I can’t handle. I don’t like it, I don’t like me in it, I can’t manage it away. Strategies seem so unachievable, thinking differently is just too hard, mind over matter just isn’t a thing! The awfulness, the horridness, the terrible feelings are just unconquerable. All I want is to run away, escape, go into a time warp. That last one is my favourite. It doesn’t involve self harm or permanent damage or death or anything undoable; it’s just somewhere I can go for as long as it takes until the pain has gone away. So if there’s any option other than having to suffer through depression I take it!

In this case it’s anxiety. You’re back, old nemesis. But this time I’m running the show, I hold the reins, I control the degree and depth and frequency, as much as I can. I have my strategies, my re-thinking, my knowledge, my support, so much on my side.

It’s going to take some getting used to, it doesn’t sit well. I have to be aware of it, and not let it get started so that it can’t get out of control. At the same time it’s important not to get anxious about getting anxious. So back to all that. But the upside: not depressed, touch wood!!