R U OK?

Today is R U OK? day. It’s an annual day nominated by the R U OK? suicide prevention charity to think about the people in our lives and consider if they are okay. More than that, it’s a day to take ourselves in hand, try to be brave and open a conversation if we think someone we know is struggling. Of course this is something that should happen every day. But today is a day to revive our intentions to be a good mate to our family, friends, colleagues, anyone we bump up against in our daily lives. It’s a day to understand a bit more about what drives people to consider suicide, and to learn ways that we can safely help them.

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I’d love each one of you my readers to check out the R U OK? website. Just pick one topic and give 5 minutes of your time to taking on some new knowledge, or understanding, or strategy. It really can change and even save a life. It’s that important.

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Some of the topics I think are great are Mates, resources for every day, news stories and information, but I’m sure you’ll find the topic that makes most sense, or means the most to you.

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I’ve been a mental health advocate (at least I think I have been) for a lot longer than I’ve been ill with mental illness. By that I mean that I’ve considered mentally ill people the same as myself just with a condition requiring treatment, and tried to show to others that they don’t need to be feared. As a child I was used to being around mentally unwell patients. One family friend had schizophrenia and another had bipolar disorder. We saw them regularly, saw them better and worse, visited them in hospital and knew they were just people like the rest of us. And they were just the people who had known, obvious, must-be-treated illnesses. Who knows how many people in my acquaintance had depression or anxiety that was more or less invisible. I wouldn’t know. It was never talked about. If they were there, I never knew. Which is a terrible shame.

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So today is about conversations. I want people to have conversations. But first of all I want to tell you why R U OK? as a charity and a question is so important to me.

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When I was depressed or anxious, I felt awful. I was barely dragging myself around, limping from bed to work and from work to bed. My brain was either whizzing or sluggish; it wasn’t very useful. I felt like all of this must be pasted across my face, and that surely someone would notice today that I was struggling and ask me about it. It had to be written on my forehead, I thought, why can no one see it, why is no one wondering what’s wrong with me? I was just dying for someone to see it and come to my aid.

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But nothing happened. I didn’t want to be attention seeking and bring it up myself, I wasn’t one of those people who was always making a fuss. But I was in pain here, it must be obvious. I thought of a hundred ways to bring it up, but I just couldn’t. It was too obvious a way to start a conversation, there was no easy lead in.

“So you’re having tuna for lunch, that’s interesting, did you know that I’m depressed?”

So I dragged myself around, wondering and waiting and hoping that someone would do the hard part for me and bring up so I could let it all pour out. And do you know the funny thing? Having felt so isolated, like no one could see the real me inside, like I was alone in this experience and so on, once I was officially sick and had told people about it, I had several comments along the lines “oh I thought so” and “I figured something was wrong” and “I knew something wasn’t right” and “you didn’t seem like your usual self”. If just one, only one person had actually said that out loud, it would have been such a relief, a balm, a comfort! It probably would have meant that I got help sooner. It could’ve shorten the process, and I would have been so thankful. It would’ve meant such a lot.

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Speak up. If you can see a change, say something. If things seem different, say so. The worst that can happen is that you’re wrong, and they are just having a bad day or week, or are preoccupied. But how can it hurt? At the least, I’m sure they’ll appreciate your concern, the effort that you’ve gone to, your care. It would be a rare person who would take exception to your kind heart.

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The second part is knowing what to say. The reason for this charity’s name is that R U OK? is a powerful question. It might not seem like it, or seem much different to our usual greetings, but it works. We say hello, hi, howdy, how are you going? what’s up? how’s it going? how’s things? alright? and a hundred similar things so many times a day. And we’re programmed to response almost rote: good thanks, hey there, great, how about you? not much, well, yep and so on. So much so that if someone says something different to these, we can accidentally get caught saying good thanks before we’ve even registered that they’ve asked us what’s up?!

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But R U OK? hits a different nerve. It makes us really think about how we are, and it elicits an honest answer.

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So here’s what I want to do. I want you, one day over the next day or two, to count how many greeting encounters you have in one day. I consider one encounter to be one person say hello and/or how are you and the other person responding. Now I know for myself, home most days, there aren’t very many encounters. But for people working in retail there might be many, maybe more than what I’ve allowed for. I really want to know what your number is! Please get involved and let’s see how many times we bump up against each other each day.

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I’ll post the results as early as possible once you’ve had a chance to respond with data from your working life today and tomorrow. If you don’t read this until the weekend, give me your weekend numbers too.

My aim for this poll is to think about how many times we have a typical hi/how are you conversation. The next step after this is to consider what might happen if we changed ONE of these rote conventional habits into an R U OK? conversation. What could U achieve, how could U have an impact on someone else’s life? You already read my tales of mental illness, so you already have a kind heart and I daresay you want to help others too. This is the perfect chance, and I hope to take the baton and run with it.

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Change

I have some big news! HUGE news! We’re moving cities!

What?? Yep we’re moving interstate! Not what we thought we’d be doing for the rest of the year!

Why?? My husband has been chosen by his workplace for a project. It involves tailoring and implementing his workplace’s software, and the customer wants him on site to help smooth the whole process.

Where? We’re moving to Canberra!

When?? Well apparently his start date is still Monday 12th September, as it was set a couple of weeks ago when the project came up. Yep, as in next Monday!! It seems that that is still going ahead, despite the fact that his workplace still haven’t organized our accommodation at all!! They are meant to be covering our moving costs etc, but right now it feels like what move?! Are we really moving? In a week? Like next weekend??

How long? The project is meant to be for 3 months, but you know projects…we’ll see. We might still be up there in February!

So! Once the shock subsided, I think we like this idea! I think we like it a lot. So many new things to be experienced.

Of course the list of down sides can be significant: missing friends and family, feeling displaced or lonely, far from my doctors/support network, leaving my stuff behind etc. But let’s leave all that til it happens. Right now, the opportunities are spilling out in front.

It’s going to be exciting!

What better time to be an unemployed pharmacist with no job ties? Talk about silver linings! This has to be a pretty big one. No taking leave, or a leave of absence. No having to quit a job I like. I can just up and go at a moment’s notice; which as it turns out is just as well, since it might come down to that!

I’m going to be a tourist in a new city with unlimited time to check out all the fun places it has. I’m smiling spontaneously and getting a buzz just thinking about the endless possibilities, the sights I might see and the people I might meet. And I’m off the hook about jobs! It is a relief. I’m unlikely to fall across a short term part time job while I’m up there so free time! Like last time when I was off work, when I was still sick enough to not need to think about returning to work, but well enough for short daytime adventures. Like an organ concert, a blogging class, a river cruise, taking the tourist bus or the city circle tourist tram around the city, a couple of hours at the zoo or wildlife park, sketching in the botanic gardens…I had so many hobbies and attempts at hobbies and really tried to get around the city as much as I could for free or cheap.

Remember this, self, remember the excitement when your anxiety about not knowing when you’re leaving for this new city, when you need to be packed up by, where you’re going to be living, what you need to take, how you’ll get around, if you’ll miss home, if you’ll find new friends, if you’ll….argh!! The big ol’ IF!!

I don’t deal as well with change these days, not like I used to. I tend to get anxious and become stressed about the unknowns in life which I would have sailed right through before I got sick. I need more notice, more time to think and consider the options, and I’m generally just more of a pain in the butt about the details! I need details!! Ask my poor long suffering husband! I have to be reminded, and reminded that things will work out just fine and not to get bogged down in the minutiae of a situation. Just breathe, and things will be fine. Of course they usually are just fine, but my brain doesn’t keep a record of all the times things have been just fine. It still goes straight to the what ifs.

And now I’m feeling thoughtful and pondering after that little detour, instead of happy and anticipatory of the future! Annoying. Let’s get this back on track: excitement, happiness, adventure!

I started a list of things to do once I get there, whenever that turns out to be. A reminder of all that I can look forward to, and a prompt for me to get out of the house once I get there and make the most of my time.

I’ve looked up places to go bird watching and practice my photography. I’ve ordered some tourist brochures for all the typical things to do. I’ve thought of a couple of friends I have up there, as well as my brother and sister in law. I’ve started checking out women’s bike riding groups and places to go riding. I’ve planned visits from people who may not yet be aware that they are coming to stay! I’ve chatted to some people who live an easy weekend away from where we’ll be living. Actually there’s so much to look forward to if you put your mind to it. Which I try to do these days.

I’m still writing my packing list and checking it twice. But since nothing has been happening about accommodation and no new information has come up, I’ve sort of put the packing thing off until I know for sure there’s a furnished house with our name on it that I can direct my things to. I had my initial freak out about which knives we must take and which tea towels were essential, but a Valium and a good night’s sleep mostly calmed my heart rate and thinking speed down to normal levels about that, and I’ve only been a normal level of anxious since. Well I think so anyway.

I will miss being close to my doctors. I think that will be the hardest thing. I don’t want to find new doctors; I’ll stay with the ones that I have. That probably means a couple of trips back for my psychiatrist, and I’m not sure what I’ll do about GP appointments. I know I can always call them on the phone so that’s reassuring. I’ll need to get new scripts for everything before I go. I just have to remember that I’m only a phone call away, rather than thinking of it being a 6 hour car ride away! Or however long the flight is. But nothing is impossible really. Just have to think of another way around it.

All of this shows, I think you’ll agree, that I’m going pretty well right now. Being able to see the positives, the blessings, the advantages, is not something you can force while you’re unwell, however much other people try to get you in the frame of mind. It comes with time, and with health. I’m grateful to have been able to take this enormous change so calmly, for me, and so positively. It could have thrown me well off kilter and returned my to bed for days. I’m glad that’s not the case.

So, all things being well, I’m off Canberra to have a fun and adventurous time for a couple of months, and I’ll certainly be filling you in on my life living above the blue line!

Dozy

Dear lovely readers, I am having the best time! I’m well, I’m happy, I’m productive, I’m energetic, not needing as much sleep or naps, I’m doing stuff, back on my bike, I’m out taking photos of birds, socialising, I’m having house guests, getting organised, spring cleaning of all things!! It’s remarkable and it’s thanks to my psychiatrist, thanks to the extra purple pill per day that I’m taking and thanks to my brain for accepting the intervention gracefully and allowing these happy days. I owe thanks to every lovely person who checks in on me when I’m unwell, so thank you so much; I’m glad I can write good news!

[Written a couple of weeks ago on One Of Those Days! I’ve been too busy living a happy life to write this week! YAY!]

Today I didn’t wake up, not altogether. I’m feeling a bit dazed, and a lot like there is a thick fog well settled well over my brain, and down over my neck, my shoulders and half way down my chest!

I’m struggling to open my eyes, and to keep them open, more to the point. They certainly aren’t fully opening. They just have an irresistible almost magnetic draw to close, and the sleep in the corners of my eyes clagging them together is adding to the problem. You know those moments, when people say they need matchsticks to prop open their eyelids? Except that’s usually at the end of the day, not the start of it. Bleary eyed, irritated and itchy, my eyes just aren’t ready for a new day. I realise this isn’t a first in the history of humans. Other people wake up like this too, it’s not just me. But this is after a full night’s sleep, a good rest. I should be rearing to go.

My whole body feels like its wrapped in a deliciously warm lovely blanket from which it would have to put up a great and tiring fight to escape. Well, I guess that’s not so metaphorical; I am still in bed, and I roll around enough in the night that it’s quite likely I’m twisted tight in the sheets by morning. My body is heavy and weighty and it just seems too hard to move it at all. And why would I want to put in that level of effort when I’m in such a nice situation? Oh yeah, to be the adult that I apparently am. But I can’t really think straight enough even to start planning what shape the day is going to take. What time do I need to get up again? And do I really need to get up, or can I cancel whatever I had planned? Assuming I can actually get this hefty body up out of bed. It’s like I’ve lost all muscle tone and I have to use my mind like a lifting machine to lift each dead weight limb, one at a time and they won’t cooperate! You know, one of those caterpillar diggers with the lifting clamp? Or one of the machines that nurses use, whichever environment is easier for you to visualize.

Drowsy, thick in the head, awful eyes, impossible body, can’t see where to start. And it’s my fault, my husband would remind me! Love you, baby; you really know how to phrase these statements. I am of course joking, he only says it nicely and when I know its the truth anyway.

But it’s true, it is my fault, in a manner of speaking. I took my tablets too late last night, and now I’m hung over. Basically.

I take my tablets by alarm, sort of. When you are prescribed a medicine that has to be taken twice a day, you should ideally take the 2 doses 12 hours apart. Says Miss Pharmacist, but what does Mrs Patient do? So, when will you take it?

It actually takes a bit of working out. Will you take your tablets at 7am and 7pm? 8am and 8pm? Really anything 12 hours apart works. Except there’s a complication because one of the tablets that you take at night with the second dose makes you drowsy and then comatose! It kicks in anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes usually. Sometimes it doesn’t really kick in for ages and I can stay up for an hour longer or more, but sometimes it kicks in fast and that’s it for the day. When I feel it starting to make my eyelids heavy and my insides warm and fuzzy, I head upstairs before I can’t stand straight anymore from dizziness and lack of balance! Please never try to see me at this time of night: the whole whites of my eyes go reddish and I scare myself looking in the mirror! It’s all gone by morning thankfully. In the past I’ve tried to push through the sedating effects but they won’t be argued with! I’ve crashed my way around my bedroom, lurching from wall to wall unbalanced and unable to see straight, and unfortunately having to go to the bathroom! There I sit, having done with the toilet, unsure if I can stand up and get back to my bed next door, feeling weak and heavy as a dead weight. Ask my husband, I think he’s had some interesting amusements in the early days of me using this drug! I’m talking about quetiapine, a mood stabiliser very well known for the drowsiness that it causes, among other things.

So, theoretically I could take my morning tablets at whatever time, then most of my evening tablets 12 hours later, then the sedating medication when I’m ready to go to bed…but that means having life interrupted 3 times a day instead of 2. It sounds trivial when I’m taking so many meds crucial to my health, but when I’m well I’d rather not spend all day taking tablets. So I want my meds in two convenient slots, but what times? If I’m working, this is especially critical. I want to take my meds before work, say 8am. But I don’t want to take my sedating tablets at 8pm and go to bed with the children. Plus its so early in the evening that I’m be sure to be awake bright and early at 4am or something inconvenient! So I tend to push out the night dose to 9pm, 10pm or later. If I’m busy, I just wait til I’m finished doing whatever I’m doing and I’m ready to go to bed and THEN I take them. I intend to get to the point where I’m NEARLY ready for bed, take my tablets and get a little sleepy while finishing off whatever, and go to bed nice and drowsy read to go off to a deep sleep. But I often forget and finish what I’m doing completely before taking my meds. The later I take them, the more likely it is that their effect will hang over into the morning. By much trial and error over 2 years, we’ve figured out that 9 to 9.30pm is the ideal time to take my meds at night, giving me possibly up to 10pm to do whatever in the evening and allowing me to wake up fresher. But unfortunately last night I took my sedating tablets at 11.30pm! Which messes up my system, although it is a fairly flexible system to be honest! When my night tablet alarm goes off I’m just as likely to snooze or ignore as I am my morning alarm. Some little rebellion in me about having to take meds. It never works out well for me. And so, here we are. Sedated, drowsy, heavy, tired; finding it hard to get going.

It’ll get better but slowly, across the course of the day, and it’s probably just going to be one of those days where I shouldn’t drive, need to find something riveting to do to keep me awake, or just succumb and stay in/go back to bed! I guess this is one of those days where not having a job works out for me. I might manage to get up and go to work on a day like this, but it’s questionable what quality of work I would produce, and it’s probably in most people’s best interest that I don’t go at all. So if I’m working, I need to be a lot stricter with myself in taking my meds on time. There’s a fascinating concept called presenteeism which I recently became aware of. You know, like absenteeism where you’re absent from work? Except this is when you are unwell, under stress or otherwise compromised in some way, but you turn up anyway and consequently put in a worse day of work than you might usually. A workplace was looking at how much presenteeism cost them as opposed to absenteeism, and whether it is really better sometimes for staff to just stay home. Doing so would theoretically reduce errors, complications, injuries that may arise from incomplete focus. I don’t know how they’ll measure any of it, but I’m watching on with great interest.

So yes I supposed you could say that being hung over and non functional is my fault. I get tempted to have late nights, to be like everyone else, carefree and not worrying about things like tablets. I know it’ll catch up with me the next day, but in the evening when it’s all going down it doesn’t seem as bad as it will be in the morning. So I push out the time a bit here and a bit there, a lot here, too much there! I do have to be careful that I don’t get myself into a different time zone, taking my tabs at 11pm and 11am or worse and really messing up my hours. While I’m off work I can be a rebel and mess up my sleep pattern and sleep in til lunchtime. Who cares, basically! But work is something that I want and need, and when it comes it’s back to taking tablets by the alarm. Like a good girl. For the best.