Hard questions #1

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

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

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

Some questions are hard to answer.

Some questions are unanswerable.

Some you just wish were!

Like,

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

 

Ummm…well…

I’m not really sure…ahhh…

Maybe…I don’t know…

I think it was…

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

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

You changed the towels a week ago?

I haven’t used mine yet? Hmm…

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

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

Plans to shower tomorrowknows it probably won’t happen

more shamethat’s life!

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

Like, when did you last have a shower.

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

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

Why is showering so difficult and so irregular now?

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

It’s a few things.

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

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

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

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

“Do it for me”, “I can’t”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But now, a new directive:

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

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

“Not for hygiene…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Canberra Day Fifteen

Strictly speaking not a Canberra day at all, but it’s all linked to Canberra so here we go.

Possibly one of the most exciting days of my life! I have been wanting to see whales in the wild probably since I was born, maybe a little after. Currently I subscribe to a tantalizing blog that sends me an alert from anywhere along the Great Ocean Road that a whale is sighted so that potentially I can go and see it. Of course I live in Melbourne and so the closest sighting has still been 2 hours away, the furthest one a ridiculous 4 or 5 hours. So in order to make this work for me, I set up a spreadsheet earlier in the year and put in all the sightings with where, when, what type of whale and how far off shore the sightings were so that I could pin my money on the most common places and take a driving holiday. That hasn’t really eventuated, but I still dream about it. Now that I’m living inland it’s quite of all moot, and even if I were in Melbourne and free to go on a 4 hour round trip for the sake of a possible sighting, I couldn’t because the Great Ocean Road is shut with landslides!

So, where is this all heading? Today we decided to go and check out Kiama and everything that is between Shoalhaven Heads and there. Lots of stunning lush scenery, beautiful hills, brilliant ocean views, just lovely to be enjoying it all, soaking it up. I’ve been to Kiama once only for half a day on band camp, but I remembered the blowhole so we headed there. It was a bit of a wash out due to flat seas, no wind etc but we heard people CASUALLY (how could they?!?) talking about taking photos of whales. I was like, where’s this? And it was a few hundred metres of shore happening right there and then!! Excitement plus; doesn’t even describe the happiness!! This is the best photo, they were a fair way off, but this shows what others thought was a mother and calf on her far side plus another whale in front flipping its tail!!! WHALES!!!!! I saw them! With my own eyes and through my 300mm zoom lens!! Oh of all the days I wished I’d spent those few thousand dollars on a 600mm lens…not really though, I have a great editing program that let’s me crop a lot of the photo away. I’ll put what my camera got as the header; what my eyes got was a lot less. Although I think when the header image gets cropped it does zoom in a bit.

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Well! What to say after that?! We enjoyed more driving once the rain set in after a sunny morning, the dramatic skies were a highlight and the scenery everywhere was just delightful. We drove a couple of roads that hubby hopes to climb another time; he needs to go home and get more gears!! It was seriously steep, we were wondering if we’d tip over backwards!! And we drove down in first gear and still sat at 30kmph! Fascinating. We saw some gorgeous sandstone cliffs, mountains, farming and horsey farms, little seaside villages and it was just a lovely day seeing new things and having new experiences!

Calling me

This is probably a long overdue explanation. Actually I can’t believe we haven’t talked about this before. But to save hurt feelings and offense, here’s the deal.

Since I’ve been sick, starting with generalized anxiety disorder and progressing to bipolar 2 disorder, I’ve hated the phone!

Well I hate the phone function of my phone. I actually quite like the rest of my phone, and we spend a lot of time hanging out, my phone’s operating system and I.

What I hate is answering the phone, dialing numbers on my phone, calls coming up on my screen, making calls from my phone, talking on the phone.

There are some known reasons why, and some unknown reasons why. I rationalize it as best I can, but at the bottom of everything there is this primal aversion that I can’t remedy; an involuntary reaction that overcomes some of my attempts to change it.

I guess part of the response is about uncertainty. If there is one thing that anxiety fears it is the unknown. It has such a field day when a thing is not known or not fully known. An unknown phone number coming up on my touch screen sends my heart rate, my pulse, my blood pressure, everything fight or flight about me into a tizzy and I put the phone as far away as I can be by arm’s reach and stare at it as it rings, until finally it stops. Then a missed call message comes up on my screen, then maybe a voice mail. It’s a lot to deal with! Suddenly my day’s calendar has exploded! By end of day I have to get up the nerve to open and read the missed call message, and, shoot me now, listen to the voice mail and hopefully not, but possibly, have to respond to it. Having a known contact’s number pop up on my screen isn’t much less exhausting. Answering the phone, opening my ears up opens a direct pathway to my heart by emotions foreign, unknown. Here’s hoping that responding to the message only takes an inner acknowledgement, please not a text and please please please not a phone call!!

So, the uncertainty. What is so uncertain? Everything, to anyone inclined towards anxiety. Who is it going to be, what are they going to want, how long is it going to take, where are you going to be when they catch you off guard? When are they going to call? What are they going to say, what will I have to say? Nothing can be known in advance, and therefore nothing can be controlled which is how I prefer to operate; controlled. I constantly worry about what emotional toll happenings around me will have on me. How much emotional money do I have today, and how am I going to spend it? Because once it’s spent that’s it for me, off to bed to recharge for as long as it takes. It’s inconvenient, but it works. So I feel that I have to carefully monitor the cost of happenings around me, and what capacity I have to pay for them. That’s just how it is.

That’s if I’m having an anxious day. On a depressed day, it’s much less complicated. The sheer act of reaching my arm out to my phone, having to lift the phone up, transport it to my ear, roll over so that I can put the phone to my ear…just far too many moving parts for me! I’m going back to sleep, they can call later. Or never. Let them leave a text message, a voice mail. Let them leave 10, I’ll deal with it at some undetermined later date which may never come, although that brings it’s own anxiety around having something outstanding awaiting my attention and the same what ifs as before, except I can control the when with a beating heart and shaking hands. So, same result, different motivator and vastly different range of emotions assailing me.

Please don’t take me wrong! I love that you care enough to call. The thought behind it is precious to me, always. Consider your good intentions registered and appreciated even if you never get through to me; even if I’m not thoughtful enough to call you back and tell you so. It’s not you that I have a problem with; I like you. It’s my insides that are roiling and writhing regardless of who it is coming across the telephone network. So many lovely friends, and I let you go to voicemail. It hurts me in the heart to do it, but my jiggling stomach and nerves win out most of the time. I just can’t do it, I just can’t pick up that phone! I do mean to get back to you, somehow. I think about it, about how I’ll let you know that I did get your message, I did note your call. I think, maybe I’ll text you later, or maybe this time I’ll manage to talk myself into calling you, you know, later. But maybe I won’t, and I’ll feel bad, very bad about it. Not bad enough to call, necessarily, but bad. I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this kind of treatment, but I so often just can’t find it in myself to do better. Lately I’m improving, but it’s early days, we’ll see how those nerves go.

So, I text. I love texting! I can read and reread your message to get the absolute fullest meaning out of it, then I can draft and redraft my response, leaving some waiting time in between if I need to ponder new information or digest new events. When I’M ready, and composed, and emotionally calm, and in control, I can text you a reply. No sudden information overload, or rush of emotions. No misspoken words, or “I didn’t mean it like that” moment. It’s just better!

I tend to mostly not pick up the phone, except to my husband who is always safe. Some closer friends also are on the okay list, but that list doesn’t apply at all times on all days so if I let you ring out, please don’t be upset or offended or think that you aren’t a great friend. I just don’t have the emotion to spend today, sorry. Not to suggest that you suck the energy out of me; all interaction does, it’s not personal. As a matter of fact, I tend to put my phone on silent. I also tend to leave it around the house, or in my handbag, or upstairs, or in my work locker; I don’t tend to carry it around with me. So it may be the case that I just didn’t hear your call, or see that you were calling, or maybe I did see it and just couldn’t make myself answer. Either way, I still love you! I’m just dealing with my demons!

If I answer a call, it’s like metaphorically throwing myself off a bridge. It’s a mentally drastic action that I can’t take back once I’ve hit that button, risky to my emotional state, putting myself out there exposed and open to injury inflicted by unknowing people. Will I be hurt, will I get through unscathed? Am I okay today and able to get through what this potentially might be? Or will I regret trying to be better by answering? I would like not to assume that everyone and everything is out to get me, and I don’t really. I just don’t have the emotional capacity that I used to have, that “normal” people have. So I tend to be overly wary, overly self protective. Maybe it’s over the top, maybe it’s insulting. But it is what it is.

I know it’s etiquette to return your call. About that. Deliberately dialing a number with the intention of talking to someone brings every bit of fight or flight flooding in, again! How many times can I take this experience without permanently depleting my adrenaline stores? Add to that an enormous lump in my throat so that I can hardly speak normally, and an overwhelming urge to hang up at every ring! If I actually get to say hello, it’s possibly been an ordeal! Mostly. I have good days. Better days. When it’s not so hard. But mostly I’ve had to take myself firmly to task, and work myself up to dialing back.

Here is a not uncommon scenario: I let the phone ring out cos I just can’t answer, then when I feel ready I text you back. You assume I’m free now and wasn’t before so you call me again. I let it ring out again cos you know, then I text you again. Until you get tired of calling me, I guess!

I suppose I’m trying to condition anyone who rings me to leave me a message. Then I can call back if and when I’m ever ready, or I can text you safely from the comfort of my own home, at the time of my choosing, controlled by me, no risk to my emotional self. Texting is good. It’s safe, I can compose what I want to say, I can respond at my leisure, no one rushing me or hassling me, it’s all in my hands, in my control.

But I guess sometimes I need to be challenged to do it the “normal” way, so don’t stop calling. I want you to stop in that I want to stop having to answer, but really it’s your choice and I’m trying to be better, to deal with it somehow. After all it’s the thing, it’s not you. You are my friend, and I like you, so I’m trying. Make me try.