Job update

Hello? Is anybody out there? Is anyone still listening?

Apologies for the radio silence over the last few months. It wasn’t for lack of ideas and thoughts to share, but more for lack of motivation and follow through. It’s been a long, cold winter for me! How about you?

The run-down of this winter is coming in instalments, because a lot has happened despite the long cold. First off, and the main event, an update on work.

I quit my old job in August, yep the same one that I started in April, and moved on to another job. I’ve never “given up” so soon! But it was a good move, probably the best career move I’ve ever made despite quitting being seen generally as a negative thing. Four months in community pharmacy, and I’m done! It wasn’t the community, it was the pharmacy, more specifically the management of the pharmacy, and more especially the owner/manager/slacker/ingrate/greedy pig/jerk. I’ve done that fight in a job once, and it changed the course of my mental health for life! This time, I knew enough not to stay, and I’m proud of that! It shows that I learnt something that first time around, and that’s a victory. As soon as I realised that the situation wasn’t going to change (another thing I’m proud of recognising this time around) and that my initiative was unappreciated, I started planning my departure.

And karma smiled. Well I don’t believe in karma, or the universe, or fate. But everything fell into place like it would if you did believe in one or the other of those things. I monitored the regular SEEK pharmacist job alerts that I’d signed up to receive before this job, as well as the Society of Hospital Pharmacists job register. I was still searching for my escape route (you know, never leave a job until you’ve got another job), when I got a call from Slade Pharmacy at Epworth Private Hospital in Richmond asking if I would like to interview for a casual position! Ah yes! I would definitely like to interview for a job with flexible hours in a hospital, albeit the dispensary! Especially since you called me; is this a dream come true? So why did they call me? Turns out that when I interviewed for them last year and didn’t get the job, they said “can we keep your resume on file?” and meant it! How about that? I thought it was just a line that everyone says when you don’t get a job as a consolation that maybe in the future there’ll be something there for you. But this time there’s an actual consolation prize in form of a job! Amazing.

So, interview, check. Job offer, check. Give notice that I’m leaving, check. Get obnoxious response from boss, check. Leave job feeling even better about my decision to leave, check. His response when I said I was leaving? “That’s a relief. Return the keys. Retail is not for you”! Sorry. You’re wrong. Retail pharmacy is for me, in fact during uni days I worked in retail pharmacy for 3 years and had a great time. But you’re right, the way you mis-manage it, it’s not for me. Ciao!

Usually when someone is looking for work, changing jobs, planning a career or whatnot, they consult their own needs and maybe that of a partner or family member. It comes down to what you want from a job, where you want to work, what you want to do in your job and that’s it. That’s true for me too, but in my case, there are a few other factors that contribute as well.

Number one: how will this job affect my health? That’s always the first consideration nowadays. Do you ever even think about this when considering a job? I certainly never did before I got sick. Could I work fulltime, could I manage the stress, how would I manage my workload? I never even thought about these as issues, I never thought about it period. I just knew inside myself that I would manage whatever came to me. I never doubted being able to do whatever job I got. I didn’t understand there being any option but doing the job well and going home to rest before going back the next day. Until the last year of my first job led to my physical health falling apart, and my mental health beginning to deteriorate. My second job was endlessly fulfilling but my mental health was already on the way out and too far gone for me to hold my head together, so I had to bow out. Ever since then I’ve been returning to work and thinking about what I can physically and mentally manage in a job.

Number two: what do my doctors think? Their opinion isn’t the end of the matter, but it has a lot of weight and sometimes it does decide the issue. My psychiatrist for instance has an old-school understanding of what hospital pharmacists do, but a very up-to-date understanding of how my previous jobs have affected my mental health. His current stipulation has been no hospitals, which of course I’ve found very challenging to accept! Hospitals are my place, I’m sure of it, but the politics of my first and third hospital jobs have been tough on my health for different reasons. So, I did what he suggested and tried retail pharmacy. I wasn’t very enthusiastic at first, but I tried to see it as a challenge, as a chance to update and broaden my drug knowledge and expand my mind with a different type of practice. But unfortunately, I found a great job in a terrible environment. I tried hard to make it work, but it began to drag me down after a couple of months and my psychiatrist could see that clearly, once referring to my ex-boss as Frankenstein’s brother, and another time as a peasant which amused me greatly! But still, when I broached my new job at Slade Pharmacy with him, I went cautiously and emphasised the words dispensary, retail, community pharmacy, and minimised the word hospital. But as it turns out, that first job as a casual dispensary pharmacist starting in September was easy to sell. Meanwhile my GP is supportive of anything that I want to put my hand to, even recommending I just not work for a while longer if it suited me. But getting back to work has always been a driving force with me, for better or for worse.

A week into my casual dispensary role, I heard someone dropping the words job and emergency department!! Wait!! What?? My favourite ever job so far! On offer right here? Where I already have a job? Ears pricked, senses heightened, on full alert I went into action finding out as much as I could. As soon as possible I interviewed for and was then offered later that week a role in the emergency department, 2 weeks into my casual dispensary position. I was more hesitant in telling my psychiatrist about that. I used words like part time, structured, working with another pharmacist, dedicated time, no involvement with the main hospital. But it went over easily. He saw how the community pharmacy thing went; we tried that. So now this is a new thing that I wanna try, and we’ll watch and wait this time.

The third and last factor is a third party checking in on the progress of my work. I’m receiving income protection payments from an insurer, and they check in on me every month. There’s a lot of filling in of forms by myself and my GP, supplying payslips when I’m working, and periodic check ins with a “rehabilitation consultant” who keeps tabs on my work and my health, and a case manager who keeps tabs generally. They do keep the pressure on to remain in paid work, of course, and they aim to get me back to full time work, something that I’m by no means convinced is possible. When I wasn’t happy in that retail job, I did experience some pressure from them to keep going rather than quit, but I was sure I was doing the right thing, and now in hindsight they agree. It’s just another little something in the mix that complicates my plans for what work I want to do and how I want to do it.

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Slowing down

If you look carefully, and you shouldn’t feel the need to, you can see the signs of me slowing down. Mornings get harder (and they’re never really my strong suite, but I’ve impressed myself lately), I stop answering the phone (which is always my strong preference but sometimes I’m better at it), I stop doing anything much around the house (which isn’t saying much but still), I stay in bed longer and longer, getting up and going is harder, and I dive into my laptop and live there because its more predictable and controllable in there than in the outside world. I jump into a world that isn’t reality, where beautiful music and sitcom laughter falsely pep me up. But I take falsely pepped up over no pep most days.

This week I haven’t been doing so well. I know why, but I can’t seem to shift it and improve my mood. There’s just been this one thing that’s bugging me, and I haven’t been able to physically do anything about it to this point and its just biting and biting. That has worn me down as well as consuming my thoughts with less than impressive ideas about myself. It’s brought about a constant level of fight or flight instinct in me, and between palpitations and just feeling amped up it hasn’t been fun.

At work on Sunday a patient came in desperate for something to help him sleep. He really seemed quite beside himself, saying he can’t get to sleep til 2am, doesn’t sleep long, and then is bombed out all day and can’t get anything done for being tired. It seems like a pretty clear case for handing out a Pharmacist Only sleeping tablet, but this man is on an old school medication that interacts with EVERYTHING! He was well aware of this and told me about it before I could ask about other medications. So I did the proper thing and checked to make sure that I could offer him a safe option. Most of the medications we can sell are sedating antihistamines like Phenergan and Polaramine which you may well have heard of. But these interact with his medication so they’re out. There was only one option (other than referring him to his doctor whenever he could get in) so I set him up with that, explained it all to him, reassured him that it was fine, advised him to take a half dose to start with and we both went on our way happy.

Then I got a call from him saying he’d read the leaflet in the box (of course, he would be the one in twenty to do so!) and it said not to take it. I explained again that the reason not to take it with his medication was because of drowsiness not another side effect, and in his case we wanted the drowsiness. At this point I recommended he discuss it with his doctor before taking it if he didn’t feel confident, but he said I was the medicine expert so if I said it was okay, then he was okay with it. Flattering to hear, but a bit of a terrifying responsibility at the same time. But I was happy from what I read so all good. But that call back set off some doubt in myself, some insecurity that maybe I got it wrong and I just cannot get rid of the [insert adjective] questioning in my head!! I looked it up again, and again, and although it seems right, there’s just something!! Did I do the wrong thing? Should I have not given him anything and hoped he could see his specialist soon? Is my knowledge still not up to date enough? What if something happens?? That last one is a killer of peaceful thoughts! Is it likely? No. But…and that is pretty much the loop my brain is feeding me.

I’ve tried to breathe: in 2 3, out 2 3 4 5. I’ve tried distracting myself, thinking of something else like our holiday to Queensland sometime later this year: I now have put together the most thorough bird watching to-do list that you’ve ever seen, have an order pending for a Cairns specific bird book, and GPS coordinates for good locations! I tried eating: fail. Telling a colleague: they weren’t concerned but what does that mean? The responsibility doesn’t rest on their shoulders so…I was asked to work yesterday so I was going to look the patient up and give them a call to check everything is okay, but my shift got canned. So that phone call got pushed out til tomorrow. It’s been a long week!! I’m just stuck in quandry, in limbo waiting for the knife to fall, the bell to toll, the consequence to descend on me. ARGH!

So my mood has struggled. Monday I was in bed til lunchtime, or after lunchtime; sometime around 3pm possibly. I don’t think I did a single thing. Wake up, sleep, wake up and breakfast, sleep, wake up and snack, sleep, wake up and drive 2 minutes for KFC, sleep, dinner, sleep. Very interesting. I was bugged by this sleeping tablet business all day, but I didn’t realise how much it was sapping my energy, motivation, interest in anything else til later. But every time I woke up either overnight or during the day it was right there, clear as crystal in the front of my mind!

Yesterday I managed to get out because I had a voucher with a use-by date to redeem at the aquarium, and at Pancake Parlour; freebies are a good motivator. Breakfast/brunch near an open fire while sorting bird photos on my laptop was pretty fun!!

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Then on to the aquarium where I enjoyed walking around in a removed kind of way, apart from the lovely shallow rock pool with little rays and elephant sharks (which are so ugly!!) and little fishies; that was awesome. Then on to the behind the scene package where we got in a glass bottom boat and watched rays and sharks and fish swim just beneath us. That was pretty cool. But the breakthrough was feeding the rays. I’m not talking about the little ones, I mean the Smooth Stingray species that is 3 or 4 metres across. They come up to the side of the tank for feeding, and they aren’t meant to, but they flap flap flap their “wings” against the side and cause huge splashes!! So naughty, and so fun fun to watch and take photos of! That got me laughing out loud; I really enjoyed that. I was smiling for ages after that.

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Then I went down a couple of levels to the bottom of that tank so I could watch the big sharks and rays swimming around through the glass; another wonderful experience! That really did it for me, and it is SO important to have things that do it for you on not so great days. Last stop was the penguins, and a cute penguin onesie for a baby who I know will be coming later in the year. I was still wrecked by the end of the day, I was still dragging myself around the levels of the aquarium, I was still tired but I got some smiles and laughs in which makes it a win as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t take much to suck that out of me, but at least it was sucking from happy to regular, not from regular to down. That’s a good thing too.

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We had a chat last night, hubby and me. Something about me being in a rut, lost in my laptop, not really engaging with the world or him. And I recognised it then as a symptom, that I really was down a bit and struggling a bit and it was cause and effect happening right there in my easy chair. I was almost at a point to make an appointment with my GP for a pep talk and pick me up, but I’m still holding that card because I see my psychiatrist next Tuesday.

So what about today? There is purely one reason why today worked. Wheel Women had a ride on that I had RSVP’d too but wasn’t sure if the weather would turn out good enough. Last night hubby said: “go even if its raining because there’s only meant to be a small amount of rain, so if it’s raining its probably nearly done”. And it happened exactly like that. Even though it was POURING rain when I woke up, I got up, got dressed, got ready, checked in to make sure the ride was still going ahead, and drove over to Kensington. It rained the ENTIRE way over there, except the last 1 to 2km, and then it was the most spectacular morning you could possibly imagine. Blue skies, the Maribyrnong river was looking stunning in blue as it reflected the sky, the grass was green and it was good to be alive with friends enjoying the sunshine and the fresh morning. That alone does it for me, and I would have been so disappointed had I stayed home.

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Instead we had a lovely time chatting while we rode, chatting over coffee and chatting all the way home again!!! And then, because I wanted to check out some birds (so wishing I had my camera in these perfect conditions!!) and get some shots of the city that I couldn’t take while I was riding, I did the whole thing again!! Yep, 2 loops along the Maribyrong and I can’t think of a better way to spend the day! Right now, I’m happy. I have a low level of anxiety still going on but I think I might take a Valium to give me a bit of a break from that so I can enjoy this feeling of happiness and friendship and accomplishment. Every time I do that ride along the Maribyrnong I remember the first time when I thought it was the hardest thing in the world! Now I just spin along and enjoy it for the scenery, and don’t even notice the kilometres going by. It’s nice having landmarks to show how far you’ve come!! I always appreciate them.

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What else was good about today? I went back again to look at birds and I found some terrific ones!! A Hardhead duck so close I could touch it when they’re normally shy birds. A stunning male Superb Fairy Wren in full blue plumage on a fence post in the sun (oh camera, wherefore art thou camera??!!). A group of Little Black Cormorants fishing together. A pair of Red-rumped Parrots flying off JUST in front of my wheel! A Great Egret in slow, graceful flight. Beautiful, lovely day. Plus a new Wheel Women friend. And watching a recent Wheel Women member improving with every ride; I love that!! Let’s hold on to that happy!!

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Cycling update

Recently I shared with you my love of social cycling, and all the hard work that goes into it, and fun that comes out of it. I had ridden an epic (for me) number of 7 rides in 2 weeks with Wheel Women last time I was talking to you, but where to from there? When you hit a personal best, whatever follows can feel a bit mediocre.

So here’s a little update on my riding. After that two week period, I rode 2 rides the next week, one the week following and one ride the week after that. Since then I haven’t ridden much. Oddly this has coincided with unofficially and then officially starting work. I’ve either been working on the day that a ride was scheduled, recovering from work the day a ride was scheduled or the weather hasn’t been that great. It sounds a lot less impressive, doing less rides, but each ride was significant in its own right.

One ride was at sunset along St Kilda esplanade which was stunning!

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We had to change route without warning when 40 joggers turned onto the path in front of us (seriously forty!!), and I loved finding our way through the quaint Port Melbourne suburban streets until we got to the beach. We stopped for the fish and chip special up past the yachts, then rode back in the dark with lights. I hadn’t ridden with lights at night before, and I really wanted to try that with others before attempting it on my own, and yay, I ticked that off the list. I have to say whizzing along in the dark on a balmy night along the beach then into the city was pretty thrilling!

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Then I voluntarily signed up to do a big long hill climb lesson one Saturday, figuring that after the very hilly Torquay circuit that I survived, I should strike while the iron was hot and keep working on my hill climbing skills! What’s the saying, sucker for punishment? Or something like that. There was a large group of us and I think that we each learnt something different, relative to our own ability and the experience of climbing that hill. Most of all, we had a go. Having a chance to try something is such a big part of Wheel Women. I wouldn’t think of doing a 8km hill with an average 5% gradient by myself. I probably wouldn’t try it with a friend; I most definitely wouldn’t try it with my husband! He’s an amazing hill climber: lean and muscular, terrific cardiac capacity, mentally tougher and most of all 50kg lighter than me!! Yep, that’s the difference between us! But being so competent, I think his coaching wouldn’t translate as well as from someone who has been through the learning process themselves relatively recently. Maybe I’m wrong, but I like attempting it this way, with several female coaches who have gotten into riding in the last few years and recently trained as coaches. The climb was a bit torturous, and I admit I put my foot down about 7 times for a “breather” or for a sip or five of water or to let the lactic acid burn in my quads abate, but I didn’t stay stopped. I had a good friend riding alongside coaching me; she really helped change how I thought about doing the ride, and I did better because of her!

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By the end I actually felt like I could go back another day and using her techniques I could get to the top by myself; but it’s more fun with friends. I was last to the top, but boy did I make up for it on the way down!! I was second by a small margin and rocketed through those curves; now that’s bike riding!!!

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For the third ride we rode 40km in a loop around Geelong via the chocolaterie. I was so proud of this ride. Despite the wind we rode into at times, I felt really strong and mostly rode up in the front group going faster than my usual average speed, and the couple of hills we came up against I hit hard, and punched up them. I found it really interesting riding around the refineries, the suburbs, and the coast of Geelong; and the chocolates were delicious! I’m proud of what I’ve achieved in skills and experience on these few rides.

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The last one was just for fun! A loop from Docklands to Port Melbourne around our usual spots: the apartments on the marina, the industrial zone, up to the beach for a moment of longing for a swim in better weather, a stop by the pink lake at Westgate Park and back for coffee and treats at a gorgeous little bakery opposite Etihad stadium. And then I went and drove off with my phone on the roof!! But we’ve already covered that.

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Well believe it or not that was back in the middle of April!! My last ride was the exact day before I started unofficially at work, and finally today I got out there again! And it was a stunner. We started in the thick fog that has been hanging around every morning this week. And it was cold! I pulled up my riding jacket over my chin and mouth after they started to go numb, fogging up my glasses and causing condensation and I began to think that a balaclava has some merit for winter riding! And I forgot my gloves!! Argh, not great with metal brake levers. But boy was it stunning along the river with the fog. Especially when we got to the outlet of warm water from some industrial place, and watched the steam coming off the water into the foggy air; beautiful. We stopped off for a look at Stony Creek backwash and the birds in the mist, especially a graceful pure white Great Egret, REALLY made me wish that I had my camera, especially when there was a lady there with a really nice lens.

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But the most stunning scene of all was when we got to the Williamstown yacht club which is always lovely, but with this morning’s fog the boats were somehow perfectly clear but behind them was nothing. Usually there’s a view across the bay to St Kilda beach and all the houses, but with all the fog it was like being at the edge of the world…just the boats and then nothing, a hidden horizon. Somehow it was so mysterious, and I was dying to photograph it!! So I did, but my phone shots are nothing on what I could have taken with my digital camera.

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The reflections today with the fog and lack of wind were PERFECT! Just perfect. But then would you believe, by the time we had coffee and started cycling back it looked like this!!

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No words.

First day/s

[Saturday 29th, and Sunday 30th April 2017]

“So how was your first day at work?”

Well thanks for asking! Really. I’m so grateful to every person who has asked about my first shift, about starting this job, and about what’s next for me. It’s so encouraging and I hope this answers all of your questions!

Actually, it’s also a complete relief to have an answer! Being “unemployed” never got more satisfying as a reply when people asked what I was up to. Although “unemployed” is not how I ever thought of myself. I still thought of myself as a pharmacist, although the longer I wasn’t working, the looser that description felt. I thought of myself as a birdwatcher, a photographer, a bike rider, a lady who was able to lunch more days of the week than not; but that seemed to come off a bit lame as an explanation. These titles com in addition to the long term titles of wife and sort-of housekeep; although hubby would argue with the housekeep bit, most likely. And then there’s how sick I had been, and still was, and how that was impacting my ability to work (or not!). Yes, I thought of myself as sick, because it’s hard not to. I mean I was. But it’s hard to explain the full extent of that, and the gradual process of recovery, in a short conversation.

But here I am, a pharmacist again. And I’ve so surprised myself; I’ve fit back into the role like I never left! I really thought I’d lost something irreplaceable somewhere along the line!! Really! Something that would stop me being a pharmacist again. Despite my seven years as a hospital clinical pharmacist, despite everything that I’ve done well and every proof of my good work, I let some unfair feedback from my previous job get under my skin like I do with many little, minor things, plus I have some insecurity about the gaps in my work history and how they would look to a future employer, and I started to doubt myself and worry about what next.

But, thank goodness, no. I mean there are plenty of things I can brush up on, make no mistake about that. There are definitely things I’m rusty on, and there have been a couple of minor boo boos; nothing a bit less of a rush, and a bit more math couldn’t have solved! But I’m back, really back! After my first two full-on days as the in-charge pharmacist working flat chat alongside great staff, meeting lovely patients/customers, doing the job of a pharmacist I can tell you that I’ve come home with an exhausted, almost delirious but actual happy, contented smile on my face, and I feel good! I never quite got the adrenaline rush that’s meant to come from exercise, but work is definitely a rush! One of the biggest joys, and most surprising, of starting back at work has been the methadone/Suboxone customers on the opioid replacement program: they are a really friendly bunch and I’ve enjoyed chatting with them. Okay, so I might be quite starry eyed and all at this point, but it’s all gone better than I thought so I’m staying thrilled for now. I’m back. That’s the most important thing!

Okay what else? My feet have been KILLING me!! This should be no surprise when you spend 7 or 8 hours straight standing up with maybe 10 or 20 minutes sitting down. Especially when up till now it’s been more like 9 or 10 hours of sitting down with interjections of activity. Swollen ankles, aching legs, feet sending out electric shots and shooting daggers; all symptoms of half my blood supply pooling in my lower legs!! Home time means legs up above my heart to return all that blood back to my circulation…lying on the floor with feet on the couch does the trick, if you were wondering. A pharmacist who has specialised in wound care for 30 years or more recommends all pharmacists (and anyone else standing up most of their waking hours) wear compression stockings/socks every time they work for this very reason, to keep the blood flow from pooling causing varicose veins, venous ulcers, cellulitis and more. It’s a great plan. I did wear compression tights for a while in winter a few years back because they pass as opaque black tights and they make a huge difference in how tired your legs get. But honestly, have you seen those opaque beige stockings?? I may not have much to be vain about, but I’m not quite prepared for those stockings. Plus these days I keep too warm for stockings of any kind so that helps my case, but not my legs and feet.

It’s been busy! Not as busy as it should have been on Saturday, then way busier than it should have been today, Sunday! Which evened out to 2 solid days work but we only had to do 30 minutes overtime today, and got out on time yesterday so that’s a win. Unfortunately today was the day hubby was picking me up and he had to wait half an hour in the car! I’m going to drive on Saturdays, but Sundays I have to take the train cos hubby needs the car, and the timetable just doesn’t work nicely. I’m happy to sit around Ringwood station for half an hour on a Sunday morning, but I’m not keen after dark so he agreed to pick me up…dunno if he’ll be so keen next fortnight! But oddly I haven’t felt terribly stressed even when the work is stacking up. I think that these days I accept that I can’t do everything, and just pick one task after the next and keep at it till we get through them all. To give fair due, both days I have worked with amazing help in the dispensary: a 3rd/4th year pharmacy student all day on Saturday and a dispensary technician who I wasn’t supposed to have, but who balanced front of shop with helping me on Sunday. Both were very efficient dispensers, really excellent assistants and a great help with customer service and supply of pharmacy only and pharmacist only products. Plus the shop girls took all the load of processing payments as well as providing great product advice. And there was always that pharmacist out the back providing an invaluable back up to my uncertainty; what a team!!

For some reason whoever was working Friday hadn’t seemed to order medications as they used the last one on the shelf. This is the pharmaceutical equivalent of not only finding that the last sheet on the toilet paper roll has been used up, but going to the cupboard and finding that that was the last roll! And now you have a patient/customer who needs toilet paper or…you get the metaphor. We had a fair few of these annoying and really inexcusable outages on Saturday, and it was embarrassing. It’s also a problem because we can’t order on Saturday, or rather we can but it won’t come in until Monday anyway, so we couldn’t even tell people to come back tomorrow. By the end of the day we had a longer order of medications than I’ve seen so far on a weekday, and we couldn’t order anything; quite the irritation, especially for common medications.

This is going to be my main deal in this job, working every second weekend. After finishing this first one, I think it going to be okay, good even. People coming in on the weekend understand that you’re giving up your weekend for them (sometimes!) and can be really appreciative (or not)! But I think I like it! Even though I’ve taken a pay cut to be here, don’t like working Sundays, have no real entitlement to a lunch break or any other break on a weekend day, am more hectic than I’ve been in a good while, and have to keep processing scripts when I’m busting for the loo, its a job and a pretty good one, so there’s lots to be happy about! Yes, I’m happy!

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There’s something about “having” to get going in the morning to take hubby to work that really keeps me going and it’s working well. Actually, until his new workplace provide him with an ID and access to the change rooms (I mean its only been 7 workdays!), he’s been given authority to charge a cab to and from work. But I asked if I could still take him in of a morning, because it’s really working for me. And why tamper with a willing system?

I took my bike AGAIN today, two days in a row, and did the same combination of central loop/eastern loop of the Lake Burley Griffin bike path. I love that lake every time I see it: it’s so scenic, and rich with birds, and history. Not to be caught out with my camera twice, I slung it over my shoulder and headed off. Not the best set up but it worked well enough. It was pretty chilly but I had my camera and my bike and I was excited! Anticipation is so powerful. I guess it’s like hope, in a way. And hope is probably the most powerful counter balance to mental illness.

I got my photos of the NINE ducklings. YAY! Hope fulfilled. Plus unexpectedly another family of ELEVEN ducklings!! And TWO Masked Lapwing (previously Plover) chicks!!! And a baby rabbit! And a baby Golden Whistler that was playfully flitting around the tree above my head. This paragraph hardly does justice to the joy, the bliss, and excitement, and happiness that all of this brings to me! It was a beautiful morning. Not only that but I recorded MORE species of birds this morning; FORTY FOUR up from THIRTY EIGHT yesterday, including a Double Barred Finch which was a LIFER for me; a bird that I’ve never come across before. That’s because it doesn’t occur naturally in Victoria – truly a bird for above the border.

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I had another fun jaunt at Floriade checking out the shopping stalls, trying one some clothes, tasting the honey donuts which were a terrific recommendation from a friend, and checking out the flowers. I can already see some tulips starting to fall apart, and others popping up and starting to unfold. I can see how a week can make for a total change in the gardens. I still haven’t tried the ferris wheel, but I will.

You must check out my website for Spring Babies!

And for some photos of the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin check out Bike Ride and Baby Shower and Morning Lake Burley Griffin Drive.

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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Partners

This one is for the partners.

My head doesn’t hurt today, so let’s do this.

Without partners, many of us wouldn’t be here today. So many of us owe our partners our lives and our health, however much of that we have.

Who’s we? Could be anyone. I’m referring to myself as someone with mental illness. But it could be anyone with a physical disability, a handicap of any kind, some issue that needs regular treatment and support.

In the background, often silent, are the pillars that we lean on, often heavily, to stay upright.

I don’t think these amazingly supportive people are known and recognised enough. They deserve all kinds of medals, and recognition, and prizes, and awards.

But that’s not why they do it. They simply love us, even in our un-lovableness, and do their best by us and give us the greatest gift ever; someone who will stand by us through it all. That is amazing!

What’s even more amazing? In a lot of cases, they didn’t sign up for this.

They committed to us long before they knew, or we knew for that matter, that we were going to be a burden on them. They could be excused for feeling “I didn’t ask for this, I shouldn’t have to do this, this isn’t fair!”. But that’s not how they react. At least not outwardly, and who would blame them for thinking this inwardly??

They give us love and kindness and support, and that is a beautiful thing! They have such a capacity for longsuffering, even when we are a real trial to them!

Speaking for me, my husband has had to deal with panic attacks, paranoia, depths of depression including being suicidal, not showering for a week, doing nothing around the house, hypochondria, manic episodes, non-existent romantic life, sleeping all the time, having to come home from work to cook, clean, do the washing etc, me not working for 16 months, my absent memory and recall function…I could go on. But this isn’t about me.

This is about him. Sure he occasionally gets frustrated, angry, fed up, feeling overworked and underpaid. I’m not surprised! This is a thankless job! I’m trying to make it more thank-full. And he gets worked up a lot less often than he could!

But without him, I really do often feel like I would surely fail.

He stood by me in the emergency department arguing my case when I was beyond being able to argue anymore. He sat at home for days on suicide watch. He’s been to countless appointments, suffered through my drug side effects, tried to coax me along when I was cranky as anything because I felt lousy!

I’m trying to stand on my own feet more, and I am, a bit. I’m trying to notice the dishes, the washing, the cooking, the cleaning more and do a bit more. Because it means something to him mostly. Also a bit because it makes me feel a little less worse about my uselessness around the house.

I’m back at work, and it’s going well. So I’m contributing to the household a bit more, and feeling a bit more confident in myself.

All things that I do not think I would have achieved by myself. Maybe I would, who knows? No way to find out.

But I do know this. The support, the encouragement, the listening ear, the pep talks from my husband went a long, LONG way to getting me to where I am today.

My GP, my psychologist, my psychiatrist have all commented about what an amazing support he is. I sometimes think my psychiatrist likes to see my husband more than me! Haha!

But seriously, it’s a hard gig when you suddenly have someone on your hands who’s mood is liable to change before you’ve even got a hang of the last mood! In fact

Who is useless with deep depression, sleeping, eating and not showering; who is bouncing off the roof with boundless energy and babbling at 100 mph with mania; who has weird turns of suspicion and paranoia about how the partner is out to get them! This one gets my hubby the most, and afterwards I can completely understand why! After all he has done for me, which is unable to be actually counted up because it’s so vast, for me to turn and say he’s out to get me? That goes like a knife to the heart. Of course it’s not something I even feel, let alone would say on any normal day, but this paranoia has really shown me again who’s boss in my brain, and it isn’t always me!

I’m sure the same applies to many other situations. The question of ‘what would I do without them’? I have another example. A paraplegic man, twice the size and weight of his mother who has cared for him, to the detriment of her physical health, for 40 years!!

How can you thank them enough? How can you ever repay them? How can you ever begin to even out the balance of power?

They don’t ask for thanks, or repayment, and they don’t even consider the balance of power. They just give, and give, and give. What can we do to make it up to them?

I don’t know the answer, but for me it feels like the repayment is getting better and staying better, and getting back to doing my fair share, and giving him a break. How about that? Let’s give that a go.

Of course I’m a lucky one. Not all people can get better. I don’t know the answer in these cases. Maybe it’s one of those challenging things in life that you somehow have to eventually make peace with. Of course I can’t make myself better for life, it will recur at some point, but I can do as much as I can when I can, I guess.

At this point I remember all of the people going it alone.

I feel for you! I don’t say that because you are alone you can’t do it. I think you can. I think maybe you are stronger because you lean on yourself, not anyone else. But I wish that for a little while I could give you the relief of someone to lean on, someone to do the things you feel you can’t, someone to give you a break.

So partners.

Thank them today.

They are amazing, their role in improving our health is immeasurable, and most of all they do it out of love and don’t begrudge us the effort and time and strength that it costs them.

I can only aspire to be such a selfless, loving, caring, forgiving, understanding, giving and undemanding person towards others! Well that list certainly gives me a lot to work on!