Healthcare Kiwi Style

Image credit: whakaangi.co.nz
This is a kiwi. If you think a kiwi is a piece of fruit, that is actually called a kiwifruit. And to confuse matters further, New Zealanders are also known as kiwis.

A number of people have asked me about how healthcare works in New Zealand, and my friend Candida at candidaabrahamson has given me just enough (gentle) prompts to get me to answer this question.  Thanks Candida, you’re a star!

For kiwi readers (that’s people living in New Zealand and not our much-loved, but endangered national bird), you’ll know all this but I would love to hear if, and how, your experience differs from mine.  Consistency is not always available in probably any healthcare system, so I’m sure there may be some big differences in reality.

Just to clear up any more confusion that might exist, New Zealand is NOT part of Australia.  I know Australians often wish they were part of us, but we are actually two separate countries, much like the United States and Canada.   And generally we don’t like this issue of our identity to be confused or misunderstood, although I hasten to add that I love my Aussie neighbours (and readers) anyway.

I had to think about this topic because after many years in the health system here I know that my views are slightly tainted by reality.  And I guess that’s the case in whichever country you choose to look at their systems.  New Zealand has a public health care system, but a private system is also available, and in my experience it is necessary to use both.  In a promotion by the immigration service here I was told that my health care needs are in excellent hands.  Hmm.  I’m not totally convinced but…

I spent a very long time trying to insert in here an image of how our health system is supposed to work, but  I’m sorry to say my technological skills were just not up to the challenge of ‘WordPress versus the New Zealand government department responsible for such things’.  I don’t think they want me to point out that the government was firmly at the top of the diagram, and I and all the other 4.5 million kiwis were firmly at the bottom of it.  No wonder I have so much trouble.  Why do patients always come last?

Our healthcare system offers me subsidised access to a General Practitioner (GP) for my general medical needs.  I also have access to subsidised prescription medication.  Now subsidised doesn’t mean I can necessarily afford it though.  Because I am on a social security benefit and have to access both of these on a regular basis, I theoretically receive a disability allowance to meet these costs, but because I have other disability costs (there is a maximum), it actually doesn’t cover the cost of doctors and prescriptions for me. While I have never been unable to access prescription medication, I have regularly been in the situation of not being able to afford to go to the doctor, even though I needed to.

We also have a public hospital system, which involves inpatient, and specialist outpatient services.

Theoretically:

I should be seeing the following specialists through this public system.

A Psychiatrist (& social worker/nurse)   ×

An Endocrinologist for Graves’ Disease  

A Rheumatologist for Fibromyalgia   ×

Reality:

I was dumped (my word, not theirs.  I think the word they used was ‘discharged’) from the public mental health system about five years ago.  It previously included free access for me to a psychiatrist and a social worker, as well as access to the outpatient Eating Disorders Service, which included a specialist nurse).  I was ‘dumped’ apparently because I was treatment-resistant and wouldn’t respond to the help they had provided to date.  Apparently that was my fault, but I won’t get into that now.

Now days I largely survive without these services and pay a hefty price on the occasion that I need to see a psychiatrist (mostly for medication changes) through the private health system, because sometimes my GP just doesn’t know quite what to do.  My last appointment cost NZ$345.00 (you’ll have to do your own exchange rate calculations).

I was fortunate to get into the public service for Endocrinology because at the time I was diagnosed I was considered to be ‘acute’.  Had I not been, I would have probably waited six to nine months to be seen (during which time perhaps I would have died), or again I would have had to opt for the pricey private health care.

I went directly to the private system for a rheumatologist because I would have waited at least six to nine months to be seen publicly.  That appointment cost me about NZ$350.00.  It wouldn’t have killed me to wait, but it was not long after the Endocrinology experience and I was getting a little weary of my state of health.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the wait.

Mental Health Services

I need to say that most people’s reality of the mental health system is not as checkered as mine.  There is a free outpatient service, and generally I think they do a good job.  There is also a after-hours crisis service available, and I admit in years gone by I made heavy use of it.  Those crisis service staff are always run off their feet, probably like anywhere, and sadly there are people who end up falling through the cracks because of it.

There is free access to in-patient psychiatric hospitals, and I have used my fair share of these over the years.  The problem is that again, demand exceeds supply, and the hospitals become a ‘patch up and ship out’ service, rather than any type of therapeutic path to recovery.  Unfortunately there is very little in the way of inpatient care for people with eating disorders, and I have sat on waiting lists, but have never been near being admitted for this inspite of previously being dangerously unwell.

Very few private facilities exist for mental health care.  I know of one private psychiatric hospital, which operates as a therapeutic community.  I have had two admissions there, one for three months and the other for 10 months.  It was very helpful to me and it’s a shame that most people never get this opportunity.  The first admission was paid for by a family member thankfully, and I was fortunate enough to get rare public funding for the second admission.

Most people also don’t get much opportunity of access to psychotherapy.  This is not free in most circumstances, and while there is some government funding to people on low incomes, it tends to be very limited.  For example, I was given access to six visits to a psychotherapist to deal with an experience of sexual abuse.  Most people could tell you that six visits doesn’t go far.

I pay NZ$100.00 a time to see my psychotherapist.  He has kindly lowered his fee for me, as he knows I already go without other necessities to make this a possibility for me.  But that is still a lot of money.  While it makes for a very tight budget, I consider therapy to be the thing that lead me from death’s door to life again, and so it is worth it.  But for so many, this isn’t a possibility and I personally believe that it means that the other services are overused.

New Zealand has a free health service and when I hear stories from other countries, I am grateful for what we have.  It means that there is generally something available for everyone, regardless of income and/or insurance.  I know that if I am really sick and I need help, I will get it.  It’s just that it is difficult to access sometimes, and that sometimes means people continue to go without what they need.

Hopefully that answers some questions, without boring you to tears.  If you’re wondering about anything else, ask and I will answer…

To finish, something entirely unrelated to healthcare:

“The United States invented the space shuttle, the atomic bomb and Disneyland. We have 35 times more land than New Zealand, 80 times the population, 144 times the gross national product and 220 times as many people in jail.   Many of our big cities have more kilometres of freeway than all of New Zealand, our 10 biggest metropolises each have more people than all of New Zealand, and metropolitan Detroit has more cars on the road than all of New Zealand. 

 So how come a superpower of 270 million got routed in the America’s Cup, the world’s most technically oriented yacht race, by a country of 3.5 million that out-produces us only in sheep manure?” 

-  Eric Sharp (1995)

And apparently said of New Zealand.  I totally refute it:

“A country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines” 

- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1909)

Long Enough

A few days ago someone, who has been using my blog as a means to track me down personally, took a step to contact me directly.  I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted since then.  I have written, but I just haven’t quite got as far as pressing ‘publish’.  I am still a little reluctant to hit the ‘publish’ button because I guess it has left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.

I can’t go into the details, because there are others involved, and I’m not prepared to cause them hurt.  I stand by my friends, always.  But I’m also not prepared to run and hide.

Writing a blog in my own name also had some risks for me, which I have explained in previous posts.  In spite of those risks I got to a point where I had hidden for long enough, been silent for long enough, moulded my life to fit those fears for long enough.  It is my opinion that by writing what I do in my own name, that I am taking one small step for stamping out stigma associated with mental illness, and while I totally respect that others don’t do this (for their own good reasons), for me it is important to keep writing in my own name.  I have literally hidden from my own name for long enough.

I’m not going to run and hide.  I don’t believe the person who contacted me is actually looking out for my best interests, but rather that they are doing it to serve their own purposes.  Yes, their use of my blog for these purposes leaves me feeling like it has been tainted.  But I know that I have a wonderful set of connections through this blog and I’m not willing to stop speaking, and risk losing those.

If you are completely confused by what I have written, I apologise.  I realise it is a little more cryptic than I would like, but now that I know for certainty that I am being watched again, I am trying to be careful at the same time as attempting to explain my silence.

For long enough I have been subjected to people who want to watch and listen, to see what I say, and what I do.  To those people I say, you just keep that up if it makes you happy.  I’m not changing my life to suit a few who like to tell themselves they have my best interests at heart.  As we often say in New Zealand, as an ode to a familiar beer advertisement…

Yeah, right!

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” 

- Martin Luther King Jr.

Choosing To Be Fully Alive

Image credit: Lk1997863064/Flickr.com

I came across these great words from Dawna Markova:

Fully Alive

I will not die an unlived life.

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me, 

to make me less afraid,

more accessible,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance;

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.

Let me explain why they caught my eye.  I’ve spent a lot of years not being fully alive.  There are many reasons for that, and one of them sprung to mind when I read this poem.  Some years ago I had the unfortunate, and very traumatic experience of seeing another person catch fire, and I was unable to stop it happening or even to help.  I’m not going to go into the details because it would be traumatic for me, and maybe for you too, but I read:

“I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire”

You might be able to imagine that after an experience like that, everything about catching fire would catch my attention.  It did.  Any words about fire tend to do that for me, although I can say that at this stage it’s not the traumatic re-living of the event anymore.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

What strikes me is that back when that happened, it affected all of my senses.  My sight, smell and hearing all caught their own record of it.  What’s more, I could taste the burning in my mouth and I could feel the soot on my clothes.  I guess that’s what you could call experiencing it fully, and as a result it was very hard to get away from.  Not only were all my senses affected that day but also my heart.  The person involved wasn’t someone I knew personally, but a little of the pain they experienced had to touch those who had to watch helplessly.  How could it not?

I have lived since then afraid of catching fire, or seeing the experience repeated.  I don’t even use candles anymore, even though I consider myself to have largely recovered from the experience.  Candles also aren’t such a good idea when you’re living with earthquakes, so again my fear of fire is stashed away with the candles, and I can tell myself that it is ‘sensible’.

I suspect that to some extent I will always be a little fearful of fire, but the thing is that when I start to guard my life from one danger, then it is easy to start building protective barriers around myself from other dangers.  I don’t want my senses to be invaded in such a way that they were.  And I don’t want my heart to be hurt like it was that day too.

That occasion was thankfully the only time I have had to deal with such an event but my heart has been being hurt, and burnt over and over again across the years.  I’m no different from anyone else, and I’m sure most people have had their hearts burnt at times.  It’s just that when it happens repeatedly then you gradually shut down from the world, and that’s what I did.  I shut down so that no one could get near my heart.

It seemed like the sensible thing to do at the time, but I’m realising that when I shut down my heart then I shut down my life and how it is experienced by all of my senses.  I don’t want to die having lived only half my life, and so I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to take a few risks in order to bear the fruit.

I’m not about to light candles because our earthquakes continue (although admittedly they are lessening in their frequency).  A damaged house is one thing but a burnt out house would leave me homeless.

But I can consider my risks, and take a few.  I want to fly.  In any situation that we face there are risks.  I’m not blind to that but I think now I’m at a point where I can jump.  If I don’t fly, then I know there will be people around me now to make sure I have a smooth landing.  I’m still going to be careful.  I don’t want my heart burned unnecessarily.  And when those earthquakes have stopped, I’ll be pulling out the candles again.  It’s time to move on and not be paralysed any longer by my fear of fire.  Fire can be a good thing too, and I intend to experience that.

“We are young, but We already know that in life’s great game those who are
most unhappy are those who haven’t taken the risk to be happy.
And I don’t want to be one of those” 

―    Guillaume Musso,    Que serais-je sans toi?

Awards Night

Today I have had the lovely pleasure of getting two more Awards.  It always makes my day to know that readers appreciate what I write.  It’s not just the time that I spend researching and writing, but more the amount of emotional energy I pour into each post.  It means a lot to know that people appreciate and want to acknowledge that in their support of my blog.

Firstly, my friend Kat, from over the ditch (Australia) who’s great blog is tryingtoescapethedarkness, has nominated me for One Lovely Blog Award.  Thanks Kat. :-)

Here are the rules for this Award:

1.  Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their blog.

2.  List seven random things about yourself.

3.  Nominate 15 other bloggers for the award.

Seven random things about me:

(I’ll try not to repeat myself from other times)

1.   I don’t do computer games.  Aside from the fact that they bore me senseless, I just don’t have the time.

2.  I love oranges but hate peeling them.  Does anyone want to volunteer?

3.  I played (field) hockey (badly) at school.

4.   I love New Zealand music (and I promise I am not the slightest bit biased).  Here’s a sample from one of my fav’s

5.   I’m hopeless at languages.  I failed French at school.  I avoided Maori language papers  (although did plenty of cultural papers) right through university even though theoretically I should have done it in order to get my degree.  I can manage English most days.

6.   I love sushi

7.   I love it when special people draw/paint pictures for me.  My new Gravatar ( to the right of the screen) is one Frank very kindly drew for me recently, and I love it.   And this one below, I received from L (my 22 month old niece).  She did it for my birthday, a few weeks ago.  She wasn’t too forthcoming about what she had painted, but she was pretty tired at the time she gave it to me.  So what can you see in this?  I love it.

Nominations:

I have recently nominated people for this Award, having received it  from another blogger.  So for now, I’m going to sit tight.

***

The second award I received today is also a lovely gesture from my good blogging friend Kevin at Voice of Glass.  He has created a new award, The Compassionate Communicator Award, and I am honoured to be among the inaugural awardees.  The award is “to recognize and reward those who blog for the benefit of others as well as themselves.”

I think this award means so much to me because I believe that compassion is the key to life.  Maybe that sounds a little glib but think of the gains there are when someone offers us compassion.  Think how different our world would be if we all exercised compassion daily.  If I am able to offer compassion, and to communicate it effectively in my blog, then I am very happy.  So thank you Kevin.

The award is given to a specific blog post, and Kevin has given it for my post Deceived.  It took me a long time to get up the guts I needed to write that post.  The background to it was very hurtful for a lot of people, including me, and it took time to get to the point of being able to talk about it.  Kevin kindly wrote this about it:

“Cate’s blog is one which offers a great deal of variety and inspiration.  This particular blog post inspires me because it stands in the face of adversity and says, “I am still going!”  Is it adversity of the physical or mental health kind?  No not directly (although certainly it is an aspect of it) but one which we all face.  Trust, deception, and demoralization.  And yet despite that there is defiance and the encouragement to go on regardless.”

The guidelines for this award are:

1.  That in awarding it to a blogger you simply link it to one of their blog posts which you feel has personally benefited you in some way.

2.  You give a brief explanation of why you feel it benefited you

3.  On accepting the award you link back to and thank the person who awarded it to you.

So with that in mind, I would like to award The Compassionate Communicator Award to the following people:

1.  Carolyn Hughes at The Hurt Healer for her wonderful post The Gift of True Love.

You know how sometimes there seems to be perfect timing in when you get to read a post?  Well this one was perfect timing for me.  If was such a wonderful story but also an excellent reminder of the need to love myself, as well as those close to me.  Carolyn’s use of the following quote spoke perfectly to me along with her own great words.  Thanks Carolyn.

“The ultimate lesson all of us have to learn is unconditional love, which
includes not only others but ourselves as well.”
~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

2.  Come November for her amazing post The Story of Song Boy and Flower Girl.

This wonderful post, a combination of art and words, just put the biggest smile on my face.  When I commented at the time I read it, I said it was the most awesome post I had read for a long time.  And it was.  It touched my heart, and reminded me what matters.  It definitely benefitted me and I know it was of benefit to others.  Thank you.

3.  Dan at dan4kent for his great post TEMPORARY POOP

As seems to be often with Dan’s posts this one also came at the perfect time for me.  It was an excellent reminder of the need for not only compassion for myself but also recognising the needs of others.  That’s one thing I love about Dan’s posts, there are always several different messages that I get.  Regularly there is something in it for me to learn about myself, but also a great knack of pointing the reader towards reaching out to others.  A big kiwi thank you, Dan.

***

Those are all the awards for now, but thanks to Kevin for his great idea of this new award, I plan to make use of it again.  To those I have listed above, thank you so much for these and all of your wonderful posts.  Feel free to pass this award onto those you wish to recognise in this way.

No Regrets Now

Image credit: cutegirlyquotesandsayings.blogspot.com

Eighteen years ago, this is what I attempted to do.  It was my wedding day.  You know the one that every little girl apparently dreams of?  And every woman remembers back to?

I never really had dreams of what my wedding would be like, and as for remembering back to?  Well actually I can’t remember a thing of it.  I was so doped to my eyeballs with medication, just to get me through the day, that I remember nothing.  All that I have is images in my head, created from photos and a video that was recorded of the day.

The wedding had already been postponed once, when my psychiatrist told me he’d commit me to compulsory psychiatric hospitalisation if I didn’t postpone.  That was about the only thing that would have worked, and it did…  until I shifted and got a new psychiatrist.

Image credit: Cate Reddell

As regular readers may remember I don’t ever put photos of myself on the internet, because of some very real personal security issues from my past (and not because I am trying to hide anything from you).  But I’ve made an exception, partly because 18 years on, this isn’t how I look anymore.  I might yet remove the photo from here in a few weeks time, but in the meantime I hope that people will respect my need for this photo not to go any further.

The photo is me and my Dad arriving at the wedding.  I look happy enough, don’t I?  But moments before the photo was taken, and before my Dad got out of the car, I said to him “please don’t make me go in there.”

I don’t actually remember saying it, but it was loud and clear the day my new husband and I sat down for the first time (several weeks later)  to watch the video that a friend had made.  Woops!

Dad heard it, but he thought I was joking and I guess that’s a problem sometimes when you’re someone who has a tendency to do ‘silly’.  He also didn’t know that I’d said a similar thing to one of my brothers a few night’s earlier.  My brother hadn’t known how to respond either.  He could see how clearly upset I was but put it down to my mental health at the time.  I should say though, that while Dad and my brother heard me say this, I don’t in anyway think they should have done something other than listen, as they did.  It was my responsibility to opt out of the wedding.  I didn’t.

To cut a long story short the marriage was doomed and ended some years later.  It was very painful, but I’ve come to the realisation that it happened, it’s a part of my life, and that’s okay.

What brought me to that conclusion was when my mother was eager to throw out the photos she had of my wedding.  We had rescued them, along with many other family photos, from her home that was destroyed by the earthquakes last year.  She said to me, “you should have left these ones there, I’ll just put them in the rubbish.”  My mother has never been a sentimental person, so her reaction to the photos didn’t really surprise me.  But it did make me think.

Yes, my ex-husband and I should never have got married in the first place.  I believe that was the first mistake.  Actually I seriously doubt I was well enough, and in enough of my right mind, to be signing any sort of legal document.  I was very sick with depression, anorexia and PTSD (the PTSD was a lot to do with why I didn’t listen to my feelings).

At the time we married, I firmly believed that marriage was a ‘until death do us part’ commitment.  So I took that to heart when I realised it wasn’t going to work, and tried repeatedly to kill myself.  I seriously believed that was better than divorce.  Thankfully with some help of a very wise therapist who is now a valued friend, I eventually realised that divorce might not be the ideal, but  I needed to do something to remove myself from a situation that was literally killing me.

The marriage was a mistake right from day one, and I’m not going to go into the reasons for that, because I don’t think that is important.  What is important though, is what I do with the mistake I made all those years ago.  I read a blog recently, where the writer was saying that there are no mistakes in life.  I disagree.

The biggest mistake I made was
to not listen to my feelings…
over and over again. 

I kept calm and shut up… with the aid of a lot of medication.  And I kept doing that throughout the marriage because I gave no value to my own feelings.  I simply thought I was wrong.  I thought I was a failure of a wife, as a woman, and as a person.    I even thought I was a failure as a daughter and sister because my family would be so disappointed in me.  It wasn’t until someone taught me that my feelings mattered, that I started to see that what I thought and felt was valid, and not to be ignored.

So yes, I made some mistakes…  but at this point I can finally say I have no regrets.  Yes, it hurt.  Yes, it was very painful for all involved.   And yes, there are lasting scars for both me and my ex-husband, but I suspect we are both in much better situations now.  I certainly am and while we don’t have contact now I know enough to know that my ex-husband is also now in a much better place.

I also know that I learnt a whole lot from going through all those years.  That dreadful journey has contributed to the person that I am today, and I know that has to be a good thing.

I encouraged Mum to keep the photos.  I don’t know whether she did, but regardless of the disaster the marriage was, it was a significant part of my life.  It happened.  While it’s not something I think about much now days, I’m not going to pretend it didn’t happen.

Sometimes we do make mistakes, but actually good can come from those mistakes, and for that reason I have no regrets.  I need to add though that it has taken a long time to get to this point.  I used to feel physically ill when this date rolled around each year.  But this year I’ve discovered that dread and regret is past now.

So believe.  It does happen.

“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes.  In order to be free, we must learn how to let go.  Release the hurt.  Release the fear.  Refuse to entertain your old pain.  The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life.  What is it you would let go of today?” 

―    Mary Manin Morrissey

Mad, Bad or Just Different

“…it doesn’t automatically follow that he must be mad just because what he has done is inexplicable.”

 - Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London   ( 1.)

For some time now I have been frustrated by ‘the mad versus bad’ debate that comes out pretty much every time there is a terrible crime committed.  I’m neither a psychiatrist or a criminologist, so I’m not going to discuss it from the perspective of how we handling offenders, but rather than how this ‘mad versus bad’ debate is something that simply adds to the stigma of mental illness.

Today I was reading some comments on a New Zealand news website.  The subject being discussed was the New Zealand Government’s recent announcement that it intends to shut down (or merge) a lot of schools in the Canterbury area, as a result of the earthquakes we experienced in 2010/11.  The announcement has angered many Christchurch residents and so the debate I was reading was getting quite heated.

The subject of discussion was absolutely nothing to do with mental illness, but there was quite a difference of opinion between one reader and the majority.  Here’s a snippet of some of the comments I read:

“You are one sick person.”

“Go check yourself into a mental facility because you are quite likely delusional.”

“Don’t take any notice of that retard.”

“Only someone with a mental illness would make these comments. “

It doesn’t really matter whether there was a right or a wrong in the argument that was taking place.  My opinion was that there was nothing abusive, or harmful being said by the person these comments were directed at.  He simply had a different opinion.  Personally, I didn’t agree with his opinion either, but not for one moment did I assume he must have a mental illness. But it came across loud and clear that the general consensus of other readers was that the dissenter had an opinion different to most and therefore he was assumed to have a mental illness.

The quotation at the beginning of this post related to that of Norwegian, Anders Behring Brevik, and this is by no means a comment on his sanity, or his actions.  I have used it because it is used exactly the same way simply because people don’t agree with what is said.  That’s a huge leap of assumption to make, let alone an attack on those who legitimately have diagnosed mental illnesses.

What strikes me is that having an unpopular opinion, let alone badness, or even evil, is not a symptom of mental illness.  There is no reason why mental illness should have been an issue in the debate I was reading, and I am inclined to think that it is a case of stigmatising people with mental illness.

I know these types of generalisations are made every day and the media is very good at expanding and encouraging them.  I chose not to get involved in the debate I read.  I’m realising that I have to pick my fights, and had I picked this one I would have potentially taken the discussion away from the real focus of the discussion on the site.

I just get frustrated because it simply adds to the stigma we deal with every day.  Personally I have regularly found that if my opinion is different from the majority then there is a tendency of those around me to put it down to my mental illness.  They might say, “don’t worry, Cate is just overly emotional”  or “Cate’s getting carried away by her emotions again”.

Actually I get really angry when my opinion gets disregarded solely on the basis of my mental health.  If there is some sound, factual reason why my opinion should be disregarded then fine, but not a generalisation that my mental illness is the cause of my difference.  I have a brain, and I have opinions, like anyone else.  Yes, my mental health contributes to the basis of those thoughts, as does anyone’s, but it is not the cause.

It’s actually okay to be different.  It’s okay to have opinions different from the majority.  But it’s not okay for them to be simply pushed aside because of a diagnosis of mental illness.

“I also learned that a person was not necessarily bad just because you did not agree with him, and that if you believed in something, you had better be prepared to defend it.” 

―    Hillary Rodham Clinton

*

“We judge others instantly by their clothes, their cars, their appearance, their race, their education, their social status. The list is endless. What gets me is that most people decide who another person is before they have even spoken to them. What’s even worse is that these same people decide who someone else is, and don’t even know who they are themselves.” 

―    Ashly Lorenzana

International Day of Peace

“A mind at peace, a mind centered and not focused on harming others, is stronger than any physical force in the universe.”

~ Wayne Dyer

Today (Friday) is the International Day of Peace, recognised each year on 21 September.  On this day the United Nations invites all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities during the Day, and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace.

I admit that I am less interested in politics in general, and more interested in the recovery and sustainability of people’s mental health, but I have recognised that something that contributes or takes away from my mental health, is when I am disturbed by things I am passionate about.  Peace is one for those things for me.  And I am convinced that a lack of peace causes great harm to the mental health of so many.

The Secretary-General of The United Nations, Ban Ki-moon says:

“On the International Day of Peace, the United Nations calls for a complete cessation of hostilities around the world.

We also ask people everywhere to observe a minute of silence, at noon local time, to honour the victims – those who have lost their lives, and those who survived but must now cope with trauma and pain.

The theme of this year’s observance is “Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future”.

Armed conflicts attack the very pillars of sustainable development.

Natural resources must be used for the benefit of society, not to finance wars.

Children should be in school, not recruited into armies.

National budgets should focus on building human capacity, not deadly weapons.

On the International Day of Peace, I call on combatants around the world to find peaceful solutions to their conflicts.

Let us all work together for a safe, just and prosperous future for all.” (1.)

It is the victims of war, and they can be defined in many ways, are the ones I feel most concerned about because they are usually the innocent ones, the one’s who haven’t chosen war, but get stuck in its path.  They are the ones who face years of trauma and pain.  I accept that I have never been in a war zone, and neither do I want to be, but I have been in a war zone in my head (and my body in relation to my eating disorder and self harm).  I know from that how much damage war does and I believe strongly that there has to be another way to solve conflict.

“I am fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in.”

 - George McGovern

And it’s not just men.  Only a few weeks ago my country mourned the death of our first woman soldier in killed in combat.  Her death was no worse than the death of the two men who died with her, but it somehow hit home to me, particularly when I watched the footage of the all-female pall-bearer party carry her coffin off the plane that brought the bodies home.

I have complete respect for those who serve their countries in war, but I have no respect for the leaders who craft the wars.  Those who send soldiers to war and create conflicts where innocent people are killed.  There simply has to be another way.

Because of my interest in mental health I keep asking the question, what must war do to the mental health of those involved?  We only need to consider for a moment the statistics of suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst soldiers, but we have little knowledge of the impact on civilians.  It must simply be enormous, and I don’t believe that this impact on either soldiers or civilians is acceptable.

Image credit: Michelle Frost
Blog Blast for Peace

I am just one person, many miles from the conflicts that are taking place at the moment.  I could say, what can I do?  I can’t change anything.  But I strongly believe that I can make a difference simply by raising the issue,  recognising the event today, and hoping for peace.  It’s not easy to change our world, but that is no excuse not to try.  I am going to continue to write about this, and as I have said before, have committed to the Blog Blast 4 Peace on 4 November.  Maybe it’s not exactly what my blog is usually about, but it is something that I feel strongly about because it has an effect on my life (and yours).

**

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

 - Edmund Burke
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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 - Margaret Mead

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Mr Positive (And Becoming Little Miss Okay-With-That)

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” 

~Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, 1893

Do you remember the 1970′s series of Mr Men?  I always liked Mr Funny best, followed shortly after by Mr Pernickty, because I like the word ‘pernickty’ (also known as Mr Fussy).  There were 49 Mr Men characters (followed by 42 Little Miss characters) but some years back I named a 50th Mr Men.  That was my Dad, and I named him Mr Positive.

I need to start by saying that I mean no disrespect to my father, who has since died, and he was aware and amused by my naming of him, so I am sure he would have no problem with what I write.

Dad was the ultimate positive person.  He wasn’t just a ‘glass half full’ man but rather a ‘glass overflowing with your favourite drink, even when all you can see is a few drops in the bottom’ man.  This had to be a good thing, especially when in his job he spent a lot of time helping other people in some very dire circumstances.  The thing is though that when you’re the ‘glass half empty with a hole in the bottom of the glass’ daughter, with a tendency toward severe depression, all this positive stuff could be a little grating at times, to say the least.

Some people, including my Dad, took the view that to pull me out of my depression I needed the good things in life pointed out, and Dad had a knack of being able to see good in absolutely everything.  For me though, love him as I did, I hated it and would want to crawl into oblivion because I happened to know that there simply wasn’t good in everything.  Actually sometimes there is bad.  Sometimes we get hurt and unexplainable tragedies occur, and that it is very difficult to see how there could possibly be any good in them.

Dad would say “life is good!” and his pessimistic, depressed daughter, if given half the chance, would say “bollocks!”  And there we would come to a friendly but frustrated impasse, me unable to see his view and him unable to see mine.

What I’m realising now that if it had been possible to put our two views together then we might have got somewhere, instead of me simply putting my hands over my ears and saying “Mr Positive, Mr Positive, Mr Positive” while pretending it all didn’t exist.

Yesterday I wrote My ‘Anti-Social Media’ Day expressing my frustration with the level of negativity to be often found on Facebook.  What concerned me was that when we fill our minds with negative things, then we run the risk of becoming that negativity.  I think Dad would be smiling at that, because while I still don’t like a blind ‘everything is great’ attitude, there is some definite advantages to some positive thinking. (Yes, Dad I really did just write that).

Several people commented to me after that post that achieving a balance is what is necessary, and I totally agree.  If all I see is negative then that is all I know, but to take out some of that negative and replace it with positive means that I get to know something good.  And so I took some steps to limit the negative posts arriving on my news feed.  I ‘unliked’ a few things and restricted what I see from some other sources.  I also walked away from my computer for a good while, and spent some time with people who have a positive effect on me.  Already I feel better.  Already I don’t have that ‘sinking to the bottom of my boots’ feeling when I have to see some of that stuff on my screen.

I will never become Little Miss Positive, because I recognise and acknowledge that there is bad in this world, there is hurt and not everything is good.  But I am starting to realise the importance of what I let into my mind.  not only by what I see on my screen but even in the people I spend my time with, and how I let them influence me.

I am realising that I have the control over what influences me.  It’s my choice.  I’m not denying that negative happens, and I’m not turning my back on people who are trapped for now in a sea of negativity, but I am finding ways to ensure that doesn’t turn me into a negative person.

I suspect I will always have a natural tendency to ‘glass half empty’.  I always have, regardless of the state of my mental health, but I can work with that and I can simply enjoy that I have a glass and it has something in it.  And that is enough for me.

“The sun shines and warms and lights us and we have no curiosity
to know why this
is so; but we ask the reason of all evil,
of pain, and hunger, and mosquitoes 
and silly people.” 

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

My ‘Anti-Social Media’ Day

Preface: It is important to note that none of the content of this post is based on, or about the activities of the on-line support groups that I run.  I have always kept anything from those groups completely out of my blog out of courtesy to the members.

I think I could call this my ‘Anti-Social Media Day’ today.  It doesn’t happen often because I choose to use social media every day in my effort of ‘paying it forward’.  Other people have helped me get out of very dark places, and I want to pay that forward and be there to help others do the same.  And that’s what I do, until today when I have been so sickened the range of things that have thrown themselves up on my computer screen, that I have to find myself withdrawing for the sake of my own sanity.  I realise that it is slightly ironical that I use another piece of social media to tell you about this, but I do recognise that there is good with the bad.

Today I have seen women objecting to someone posting about men as victims of domestic violence.  Their objection seemed to be that it took away from women their position as domestic violence victims.  It wasn’t actually what was being said at all, but fierce battles with raging as someone tried to highlight that not just women can be victims of domestic violence.  It left me feeling ill.  Can we not acknowledge that many types of victims of all types of crime exist without having to fight for our moment in the spotlight?

Next, I was hit by a one-person attempt to fill my screen (and presumably that of all his/her friends) about how untrustworthy people are and how we should never trust anyone but ourselves.  All people are inherently bad and out to hurt us apparently.  Actually it just left me feeling sad, because s/he must have been hurt badly to feel the need to continually post such things.

Further on there was a photo of a child being physically abused, apparently in the name of sport and success.  There was so much wrong with this, not to mention why someone stand idly by and take a photograph of this?  But also what is actually being done, aside from posting swear words on social media?

I saw posts from people saying “I would never say this to the person concerned but…” and completely tearing strips off the person concerned… to everyone else on the internet.  Does this seem wrong to anyone else?  Again to me it seems wrong on so many levels.  And so I moved on…

This time to jokes and innuendos at the expense of others.  “It’s funny so it’s okay to laugh”…  even though it would be hurting someone else, let alone stigmatising them.

The final one for me was comments by someone about their parent’s sexual activities.  At that point I got up and walked away from my computer.  I really didn’t need to know that information.

Maybe I’m painting myself out to be some type of uptight freak.  I’m not.  But you’ll have to take my word on that as I have no one on-side right this minute to verify my non-uptight-freakish nature.  It just seems to me that this social media has become a way of avoiding real communication, even real activism.  Everything (and I mean everything) gets said in the social media arena.  We vent (I’m not sure that venting existed beyond opening a window until the rise of social media), and apparently feel better for it, but we never tackle the actual issue.  The person who has the problem doesn’t address it with the person causing the problem because hey, it was easier to just tell my 800+ friends.

If you have seen my All About Me page, you will see this image.  It’s a statement by Ellen DeGeneres of what she stands for and I used it because it pretty well summed up what I stand for too.

It doesn’t really matter to me whether these are “traditional values” or not, but honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way I want to be treated, and helping those in need is what matters to me.  If I am anything other than this, or am a sideline spectator of anything other than this, I don’t see that I am being true to myself.  And I know that if I’m not true to myself, my mental health takes a dramatic downturn.

I know the easy answer is to just look away, but I don’t even feel comfortable with that.  Because of things that have happened in my life in the past I am already pretty careful about what I subscribe to and what I allow to get onto my computer screen.  But it’s hard to rule it out totally.  I know I can choose my friends carefully but I have no control over what those friends might say or do.  We all know that this stuff creeps through, and there it is in front of us.

While I was raised in a religious environment, I don’t regard myself as religious but I still find that something I was taught as a child from The Bible keeps jumping into my mind.  It is:

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, whatever is excellent, or worthy of praise, think on these things.” (1.)

I’m no saint, and you’ll have to take my word on that again, but I believe that what we fill our minds with is what we end up expressing in our lives.  Or in other words:

Garbage in, garbage out!

If I fill my mind with the absolute rubbish I so often see posted in social media, then I can’t expect to be the person I want to be.  Even if I don’t participate in that garbage, I get tainted by it, and frankly I don’t want to anymore.  I would much rather have my mind filled with what is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy.

What I’m not sure is how I do that while still doing the things I am committed to doing.  There is a lot in social media that is good.  I have gained richly from the connections I have made, and I know other people gain from what I do, but if I keep exposing myself to such garbage then all I succeed in doing is pulling myself down.

So what do I do?  I’m not sure.  I wonder whether others struggle with the same things?  How do you be who you want to be without getting tainted?  I know it is possible.  After all medical people can go into disease invested regions and not become diseased themselves, but how does that translate to social media?  I would love to hear your thoughts…

“Means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”

 - Martin Luther King Jr.

Unseen

Perhaps it came from moving a lot when I was young.  My father was a preacher, and in those days preachers and their families, shifted churches every few years which meant moving to different parts of the country.  These shifts became more traumatic for me each time they happened because I was having to leave behind people who had become very important to me, as well as facing the daunting task of getting to know new people.

I eventually found myself a way to take with me the people I had to leave behind.  I still use it today.  When I was 12 we left yet another home and I found that move particularly hard.  Part of the reason for that is that there were two people who had become like surrogate grandparents to me and I couldn’t bear to think of not having them around.  Both of these people would be over 100 today if they were still alive, but to the 12 year old me, they were gold.  One was my Uncle Cyril.  Actually he was my father’s uncle and my grandmother’s brother, and he was the closest person I had anywhere near me to a grandfather, particularly a grandfather who I felt loved me.  The other was an elderly lady called Thelma.  Even as a 12 year old I called her by her first name, and she kind of adopted my brothers and I as extra grandchildren.

When we left, what I learnt was that while I couldn’t take them physically with me, I could take them in my heart.  And that’s what I do today for the special people in my life who I can’t have with me.  I carry them in my heart.  And for me, it works.  It feels like they are with me.  It feels like I am not alone and it can be enough to give me the strength to do the hard things that otherwise I would struggle to do.

Yesterday I had a really hard day.  For the sixth day I was in a whole lot of physical pain, which left me unable to do any of the things I normally need to do.  The pain was getting worse by the day.  I knew the cause of it.  It was being caused by nicotine withdrawal combined with existing fibromyalgia.  It was much worse than what I am used to, even on a bad day with fibro, and was complicated by having no access to adequate pain medication.  See my previous post To Earn Trust After Past Mistakes for why that is.

I felt very alone and what scared me is that I could feel my mood slipping into my boots.  That feeling of mood slipping is always a pretty powerful indicator to me that I need to do something to correct the situation.  I couldn’t afford to let it slip further, especially because I recognised in myself that I had the urge to self harm, and that was one thing I just didn’t want to let happen.  And don’t worry, it didn’t.

The reason I felt so alone is that I momentarily (well, for more than a moment) lost sight of the person I was carrying in my heart.  He wasn’t there physically and in my pain, I lost sight of him in my heart.

Why?  It was that I lost the ability to hold onto what I know, that I am loved.  I lost my ability to hold onto what I knew, and actually that was much scarier than dealing with the physical pain.  That’s why when I realised my mood was slipping, and that this was the result that I knew I had to do something.  And I did.

Much to ‘stubborn Cate’s’ disappointment I decided to smoke again.  If you’re disappointed in me then it is nowhere near as big as my own disappointment.   But I realised that I was trying too much and so I will bear my disappointment.  I am already in the process of weaning off medication, and then to deal with this worsening pain without the help of adequate pain medication, was simply setting myself up to fail.

Admittedly when I stopped smoking last week I didn’t realise the analgesic effect of nicotine and I didn’t realise the effect that the nicotine replacement patches I was using would have on my fibro.  It had just never crossed my mind.  Now I do know, and I can plan a way of making quitting possible.

I was reminded last night that it isn’t a good idea to try to quit two things at once, which I had inadvertently ended up doing. So once I have finished coming off the medication I will try again, but not without having a long, hard talk to my doctor and getting adequate pain relief.  By then he will have one less reason to not give me some.  I will also be arguing that I don’t want long term, heavy-duty pain medication.  I simply want enough to make the quit process happen next time.  That doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.

There were lots of tears involved in getting to this point yesterday, and then, I admit, I feared having to admit here what I had done.  I felt so alone because I lost sight of what I knew, that someone loved me and would stand by me.  And he did, and I don’t feel alone.

Going back to childhood lessons I remember being taught that faith is the promise of things unseen.  I didn’t really understand that as a child.  Actually I’m not sure that I have understood it that well as an adult, but I’m beginning finally to understand that love, and people, don’t need to be seen to be experienced.

PS.  And if you’re wondering, the pain levels are much better today.  They’re back to a ‘bad fibro day’ and I can cope with that for now.

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” 

―    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,    The Little Prince