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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I did a bad thing…

I did a bad thing.

I got sick, and then I started getting better, then I stopped. I didn’t get better. I just stopped.

I’m in illness limbo. I’m much better than I was when I was severely unwell, but much worse than I was “before”, before I ever got sick. Well okay, maybe not much worse, but worse. I’m not going forwards, I’m not going back. I’m not bad enough to complain to my doctors, but I’m not where I thought I’d be, back to “normal”.

It’s been a long time now since I got sick, and I’m definitely well over the acute phase of crippling anxiety, black depression and the odd weirdly happy and effective days of mania.

I was just commenting yesterday that I never have dysfunctional anxiety anymore; just regular, everyday person anxieties that are reasonable and well founded and manageable. But I was wrong. At that very moment it was sneaking up on me again and bam! it got me!! But only a bit dysfunctional. I don’t have the darkness and hopelessness of depression, just the sluggishness and lack of motivation and tiredness…but even that waxes and wanes giving me better days and worse days due to no particular reason. Mania continues to be a little brightness on the horizon that breaks through any residual depressive effects and gives me a little happy and useful and wish-I-was-like-this-all-the-time day or so, here or there!

I’m medicated like you wouldn’t believe, and a recent experiment my psychiatrist and I tried of reducing my meds has shown me very clearly that without these meds, I’d be right back in the thick of my acutely unwell stage!! It’s not like they aren’t working; they are, they really are! My moods have been a very difficult case to crack and it has taken 4 medications for mood and months to years of appointments to get on top of the main symptoms. And they work. I can, somewhat distantly now cos it’s been a while for some, remember how I was before and after starting each one, which may just be my saving grace down the track when I, like every bipolar patient, get to the stage where I think I might just be better off not taking my meds. One request of you, friend: don’t be the person who suggests I should go off my meds. The consequences of taking on that responsibility may well be more than you can bear. You take my life in your hands if you suggest any such thing. For all I complain about where I am, I always know very clearly that I would be so much worse off without my meds. No question. Ever. Life isn’t perfect but taking away the crutch holding me up isn’t going to help. So save it, keep it, sit on it, hold it in, swallow it; you are not helping anyone, almost ever, by making any such suggestion. You are warned.

But here we are. I’m not sick, but I’m not as well as I thought I’d be. As I hoped I’d be, planned I’d be, “knew” I’d be. Isn’t this the dilemma of every patient with a chronic illness? I go to the doctor with my illness, the doctor says okay I’ll treat your illness, I hear “I’ll get you back to normal”, and go on my way happily ever after. I think I’m presenting the doctor with a chest infection that he can fix, and then return me to my previous health. But this is not a curable disease. The treatment works, the doctor says I’ve treated your illness, I look forward to getting back to being me, my old self, and then, as the Goons would say…suddenly, nothing happened!! Yes the treatment worked. Yes the doctor has done his job. But this illness doesn’t go away. Because that’s not how it works. The illness stays. The treatment stays. The illness has just been put back to bed for a while. But there are some residual effects that haven’t been buried and they remain and irritate me. Because that’s how it works. I don’t know what it would take to get every last little bit of it under the surface…I don’t think I want to know because it either isn’t possible, or the trade off would be too severe.

I’m starting to think “normal” isn’t a reality that I’ll ever reach again. I’m starting to think that my life has been permanently changed. I’m starting to think I’m stuck here.

I don’t know.

All I know is I’m here, and everyone seems to want me to get fitter, healthier, stronger, slimmer or shall we shall less large (keeping it to reachable goals), more energetic, more involved in my own life, more something or other. And don’t mistake me, I want that too. I want it all. It’s just that I can’t see how. I can’t see how to get there. Some people say, well you made it this far through, I’m sure you can do it. But my little/big secret is, all I did so far was hang on. Through all of it, I didn’t really do anything that active; I just hung on. Now the goals require something more active and I don’t know if I can do it. I’m not sure that I can do what’s required. I guess that’s why I’ve stalled here. The next step possibly requires more than I can give.

Aaaaahhhh. Sigh. I did something bad. I stopped getting better. Can I start again?

Pregnancy

What could I do, I had to like it! It just made me think of myself, in a kind of funny.kind of truthful way!, gorilla, grass

What could I do, I had to like it! It just made me think of myself, in a kind of funny.kind of truthful way!

This popped up in my Facebook feed the other day from Brindabella and I actually laughed out loud! The expression ‘lol’ is so overused online that it has lost all meaning, but this is one situation where it was actually appropriate.

I laughed because over a few months I gradually increased in weight  until suddenly one day I looked in the mirror and realised I looked like this! Not a fun realisation! I mentioned it to my hubby and he agreed that he’d thought for a while now that I looked pregnant! Always helpful but he was kind about it. But its the truth so what can you do.

I should clarify here that I’m not pregnant; the weight is due to indulgence, medication side effects and the symptoms of mental illness. Just to be clear.

But anyway, somehow being that shape and seeing this gorilla translates to funny in my brain…not sure why, but I guess it’s amusing to see yourself mirrored in another species, and to see a big round belly, flabby arms and a double chin on a cute-ish animal looking equally unhappy about the situation!

The weird thing is, I know I’m overweight to the point of exploding over the obese line. But somehow my brain hasn’t caught up. Maybe because it happened so fast and unexpectedly, maybe because I’m in denial a bit…not sure why. I kind of knew already that my brain was lagging behind, but it became most apparent when I was in Thailand recently. Sitting on the boat in just my bathers, swimming in the pool, jumping off the boat into the water carefree and happy in front of everyone else, walking around at lunchtime feeling completely comfortable with my body the whole time. Which was a really nice feeling instead of hating it and wanting it to be different.

Until…I looked back and saw the photos! My big round tummy, double chin, fat cheeks and eyes deep in puffy sockets…ergh! Then I was not happy! Then I was not comfortable with my figure! Photos are kind of the cold hard truth that shoot you down out of your dreamy sky and bring you down with a big hard bang to reality!

I can kind of understand the idea behind body dysmorphic disorder now. I don’t have it and I’m not suggesting I do…but the brain is powerful and can really twist reality sometimes. To be one way, and consider yourself to be another way is…well in this case it’s kind to me to a point, but I guess when it comes to addiction or something like that it is very unhelpful, because you think you’re okay when really you are not. It can be unhelpful to me too I suppose, because when I’m looking at a block of chocolate I think it’ll be okay instead of considering my obesity and how chocolate is really not okay!

Here’s the other thing. When I was first really unwell, the psychologist and the doctor and all the self help websites told me to do nice things to and for myself to help me feel just a bit better. Have a bath, eat your favourite food, watch your favourite show, go to your favourite place either physically or shut your eyes and imagine you are there. So chocolate, a hot chocolate, a bowl of yoghurt…whatever you love, was okay to eat anytime and all the time to help get you through the difficult days.

Except there was no limit put on that habit…so I just kept going and going. A limit would have been good, but realistically I was unwell for months while we tried fluoxetine, venlafaxine, sertraline, sertraline plus mirtazepine, sertraline plus quetiapine, desvenlafaxine plus quetiapine, reboxetine plus quetiapine and full circle to venlafaxine plus quetiapine and finally venlafaxine plus quetiapine plus lithium, the best yet! All of those antidepressants working a bit or not much, until finally the correct diagnosis of bipolar and the life-changing prescription of lithium.

And still the end date for self indulgence hasn’t been set.

I’m better; I’m not back to where I’d like to be. I have more energy; but still need my daily naps. I have more resilience; but some days I just need something external to make me feel better. I’m trying to cut down on my treats and snacks; but it’s hard!

And here’s my shortlist of how fatness that looks like pregnancy is different to pregnancy:

1) In pregnancy, you know what to expect and you prepare your body. You moisturise and Bio-oil your belly to prevent stretch marks. In fatness, stretch marks pop up out of the blue completely unexpected and you have no warning to prepare for that.

2) In pregnancy you get the baby most times, not always. In fatness you just have the rumours, the questions, the look without the baby at the end. To be honest, I haven’t decided whether I think this is a bad thing or a good thing….I’ll get back to you.

3) In pregnancy you deliver the baby and the belly size reduces a bit, then gradually reduces slowly back to somewhere near where you started. In fatness, these is no initial tummy reduction; you just start from wherever you are and gradually reduce it hopefully also to somewhere near where you started. So actually, the two conditions can be pretty similar in this regard.

Well that’s about all I have to say about fatness and pregnancy at this point in time.

I started and stopped the gym, I did a few food coaching sessions, I returned to pilates for a bit, I go on and off calorie restriction, we’re trying to do daily walks, I’m trying to get back on my bike on the trainer in the shed, I’m trying to walk past my favourite snacks.

It’s a work in progress; I’ll get there one day. And for now, my attempt is to be kind to myself and remember why I came to be where I am, and whenever I can, to do bits and pieces to help me along the way to getting where I want to go.