Dona Nobis Pacem – 2017

Dona Nobis Pacem
(Grant Us Peace)

On 4 November (today, on NZ time) bloggers from around the world come together with one purpose. That is to call for peace.

Usually, I would write a post along the lines of where I am at in terms of my desire for peace, both in my own life and worldwide. Unfortunately, at the moment I am struggling with my eyesight, thanks to Thyroid Eye Disease, and this makes writing and screen-time difficult and uncomfortable.

So I leave you with the words above. Who can beat the wise words of the Dalai Lama? They are certainly something to think about as we hope for peace and compassion in our world.

Thanks so much to my friend Michelle Frost, of the blog Crow’s Nest who generously put together the image in this post. She really did save me in spite of her own busy-ness preparing for today. I hope you take the time to pop over to her blog to read her post for today.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

I was sitting outside (okay, so I admit I was having a cigarette) when I saw one of my neighbours walking up the back path towards me.

I said: “Hi”
He said: “How are you?”
I said: “Good”

And that was it. I had lied through my teeth, but it was okay because he just kept on walking and then walked in his door, leaving me to contemplate what I had just done. The conversations (if you can call them that) I have with this neighbour never amount to much more. I have similar conversations with another neighbour. I lie to him too. But that’s how we talk to most neighbours, isn’t it?

This time I was struck with how easily the “good” rolled off my tongue when actually I was feeling anything but good. Would it matter if I said, “good” in answer to any such questions, for the rest of my days? Does anyone actually want anything beyond this lie?

It’s easy to say, and it’s easy to hear. I’m not requiring anything of you when I answer your question this way. You can just keep going about your day. Even for friends and family, it’s easier that way. No need for you to do or say anything. I’ve given you a ‘free pass’.

But I could get side-tracked by that as I write. It’s easier for me if I don’t tell you how I really am here, on my blog, either. Maybe it’s easier reading for you too. But I’m going to push myself to not opt for the easy. You see, I’m not good. Actually, I’m struggling.

I know you want to read positive stuff on a blog that refers so often to hope, but right now I’m struggling to find my hope.

My mood is dropping and I am fairly sure it has to do with the stress in my life right now. The more stress, and the more I struggle. My stress comes mostly from caring for my mother. She needs more from me now, but has less to give me in return. She mostly knows who I am. She certainly always still recognises me, but clearly has trouble connecting that recognition to the right person. Me. Sometimes she thinks I’m her sister and she used to mistake me for my father. That doesn’t happen so much now. She struggles to remember him at all (he died nearly six years ago). Nearly 54 years of marriage seemingly wiped from memory! This illness is so cruel.

It’s hard. I don’t have expectations of her, but it’s not easy day after day, teaching her the same things. Telling her stories of her life. It would be heartbreaking no matter who she was, but this is my mother. All the things she taught me as I child, I now teach her. And I feel very alone in this.

There’s more, though.

My eating is considerably off track, and to even admit that much takes an enormous amount of courage. Much more will require more than simply an empty screen before me. You’re just not going to get the details, this time anyway.

In the last year, I have lost 17 kilograms with no conscious effort. I know, lots of people would love that to happen, and true I love that I have lost it. I needed to, I was overweight (yes, people who have had Anorexia twice can be overweight!) but I hadn’t done anything to lose it. It has really gone through firstly ill health back at the middle of 2016, and the rest I guess, has been through stress.

The reason I’m telling you this though is that unless you have been where I’ve been you have no idea how tantalisingly dangerous it is. Seventeen unconscious kilos are tempting me to consciously step back onto the eating disorder ‘merry-go-round’ (don’t think for one moment though, that such a move would be the fun of the fair!).

I don’t make it a habit to weigh myself, mostly because of this reason. It’s too easy to get taken in by one kilo lost and before you know it I’ve been sucked into losing 20 or 50. I was weighed when I was admitted to hospital briefly back in July. I saw then that I had lost seven kilos. Then I was admitted to hospital briefly a few weeks ago for an minor procedure. The deadly mistake was looking down at the scales. And I choose to use the word ‘deadly’ because that’s exactly what it can be when you have an eating disorder.

So I admit it. I am back to considering every mouthful. And part of me hates being back there, but I admit, part of me loves it. That’s the ‘deadly’ part.

But then, there is more…

  • My black and white thinking is very definitely more black and less white.
  • There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Whoever said there was, was fooling me.
  • Everyone is against me. I struggle to think anything different. I can’t believe that anyone would be on my side.
  • I said a few weeks back that I would write about anxiety. Meanwhile,it’s just getting bigger and bigger. And yes, more consuming
  • Is the sun going to rise tomorrow? Right now, I just don’t know.
  • I’ve come to a new appreciation of people who choose to keep their curtains pulled shut through the day. Sometimes it’s a way to cut the world out. They can’t get me! I fool myself so easily!

I’m sorry if you came here for a post full of recovery and hope. I guess what I need to say to you is that recovery and hope is not a linear journey. Sometimes the dark overwhelms us. Sometimes people are throwing so many lemons at us, that it is almost impossible to make the damned lemonade. Sometimes all we can do is throw the lemons back. Let someone else make the lemonade, I’d rather have a coke.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

You May Think That I Am Crazy

You may think that I am crazy by the time you have read this post, but that’s okay. As long as you don’t abuse me, I am finally (after 50 years) getting to a point where what you think of me doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t change me. You’re entitled to your opinion.

Do you believe in the divine? The supernatural even? Maybe you believe in God, or maybe you believe in some other religious or spiritual being. Do you believe that there is more to this earth than you, me and the animals who inhabit it? I do.

I believe that there is something more. I can’t give you a complicated explanation of why I believe there is something more. I just do. I believe there is something more than us, and there is even something more than our lifespan. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. My beliefs come from my experience. I have experienced what simply must have been a force beyond human kind. I will never be the kind of person who can give you a lecture on this. Maybe I’m copping out, I don’t have to have all my theories worked out, for me to be at peace with what I believe. That’s enough for me.

I started on this earth in a Christian environment. My family lived and breathed the Bible and its teachings. It was my father’s calling in life. My views have changed since then, and I know that some of what I believe wouldn’t sit comfortably with those Christians from my upbringing. That’s okay with me too. We don’t all have to agree.

Time to get to the point, though…

A few days ago I had a particularly hard day with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. We were talking about family and I was ‘introducing to her’ (for want of a better word) photos of family members whom her decaying brain had wiped from her memory. It was tough. I don’t think it was tough on her, but it was definitely tough on me. When I left I knew that there would be many days ahead when we would repeat the process of identifying the photos of family sitting on her window sill. Explaining why their particular photos were even there.

When I left I really wanted to be with those family members we had identified, but there were none close by. More so, the person I most wanted to be with was my father, who died nearly six years ago.

I did the next best thing and went to the cemetery to spend some time ‘with Dad’. Okay, so it wasn’t really Dad but I believe I can go there and talk to Dad. I don’t do it often. Just when I need to focus on remembering him and identifying for myself what advice he might give me.

I believe that where ever Dad is now, he can hear me. What’s more, I believe he can help me, particularly as I care for my mother. Before you start worrying, no I don’t see him but I guess I can remember being with him. Being loved. Being with someone who believed in me, and always importantly, had hope for me.

When I go to the cemetery I regularly take some coffee. I sit on the grass, drink my coffee and talk to Dad. I usually go at a time when the cemetery is pretty much deserted, just the gardeners maybe, somewhere in the distance. It’s peaceful. And after I have removed the odd weeds growing, I focus on talking to Dad.

That day there was no one there when I arrived. I really needed to focus on how Dad might help me if he were still here. I felt like something my mother had said had swept the wind right out of me. I felt lost and desperately sad.

After maybe fifteen minutes, another car pulled up. Two women and a dog got out and headed towards me. In a huge cemetery, they happened to be coming to a gravestone just two down from Dad’s.

The dog (a Jack Russell) immediately came over to me and was jumping over me and eventually sat down right next to me. The two woman were amazed that their dog was so friendly with a complete stranger. I asked the dog’s name. Her name was Hope.

This is where you might think I’m crazy. I believe that dog came to me as a messenger sent by my father. Hope was a reminder for me that there is hope. It was exactly what I needed, and once I realised this I felt an instant feeling of peace. I no longer had to worry about my mother. I could be at peace. And one day, my mother would be at peace. For a number of reasons that day, it was exactly what I needed.

A dog named Hope.

Think I’m crazy if you want to. It doesn’t matter to me. I believe that there is not just one explanation of the divine forces at work on our planet. There is space for us all to have our own beliefs. There is no right or wrong. If you want to laugh at my interpretation of my encounter with Hope (and hope), that is okay. That’s your choice. What matters to me is that it helped me enormously that afternoon to have that encounter. And so often such gifts for me come in the form of animals. I am so lucky.

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

September 11 – A Birthday ‘Girl’

There were times when I thought birthdays were simply a kick in the teeth. A day which celebrates your life? When you’re seriously depressed? Exactly. It doesn’t work.

I would fight my family, especially my Dad. There was no way I wanted to celebrate my life or my birthday. Love him as I did, Dad couldn’t get why I didn’t want to celebrate anything, and having an eating disorder (think Anorexia) I had no desire to face any extra food. Why was all this so hard to explain? And why do all celebrations centre around food?

Now that Dad has been gone for over five years, I know he just wanted to take the bad stuff away, see me happy; and now I would give anything for him to have been here today. I would even have put up with his sometimes, over-exuberance for my life.

Sometimes birthdays are just as much about who is there, as who is missing.

This morning I took my mother to church (we do it pretty much every Sunday). I go so that Mum can continue her life-long habit of church involvement. If I didn’t go, she wouldn’t be able to. With Alzheimer’s to contend with she doesn’t altogether understand that this is the only reason I go, but that’s okay.

While I used to have a Christian faith which would fit with my mother’s church, I admit that now days I find it frustrating, bordering on annoying to even angry-making. I admit today was at the angry end of the spectrum.

So my mind wandered, out the window, and I watched as firefighters were preparing for a 9/11 commemoration ceremony across the road. I watched as they tied both American and New Zealand flags to the handrail going over the bridge. I could just see the two beams from the World Trade Center towers, which are now the focus of the Fireman’s Reserve here.

There have been times since that I hated that 9/11 was my birthday. It is a reminder of a very dark time in my life. 2001, I was desperately suicidal and had planned to be dead by my birthday. Instead, I was in a psychiatric hospital in Dunedin.  I was close to psychotic and the staff would tell me they were running out of ideas of what to do with me. I was becoming a hopeless case. I certainly felt hope-less. Without hope.

Each year when 9/11 is commemorated, I am almost forced to remember my own hell of 9/11. I actually want to think of anything but. That morning (it was actually 12 September by then in New Zealand, but that didn’t matter) the nurse woke me and told me “the world had gone mad“. I wondered what I had done. Why else would she say that?

That was fifteen years ago, and much has changed. I’m glad it has changed, and actually, I’m glad I have a birthday today. Yes, I did just say that (for the benefit of family who may be reading). Today I can remember my 9/11 hell and not have it pull me down into despair. I remember my time in Dunedin but I know it is firmly in my past.

When I see the American and New Zealand flags side by side on 9/11, I can remember what happened that day, and the people who died, but I can remember my American friends too. Without having gone through my own version of hell back 2001, I probably wouldn’t have some of the friends I now have. I’m glad I have them.

Happy Birthday to me.

Below is my gift today from my niece L, still my favourite little person in the world. She makes being alive worthwhile.

livy-birthday-001

I know you might not be able to read the message, but that’s for me anyway. The picture is of her and I. I love it.

The fact that I can now love anything, anyone and especially my five-year-old niece tells me that there is hope. I would never have imagined being able to enjoy a birthday or enjoy L.

Life isn’t perfect, I wouldn’t even say it is great. Life is what it is, and often that’s really hard. But it is worth being alive.

And that makes 9/11 worthwhile for me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Spring Follows Winter

I was wrong.

There. I’ve said it. I was wrong when I suggested in my last post that there was no hope. I wrote that instead of hope there was only a void.

I don’t mean to deny how I was feeling, but that’s the point. It was a feeling, and I was forgetting what I know.

Think about it. What I know is that there is hope. At the time I wrote I was feeling that there was no hope in my life, but really, that didn’t replace what I knew.

I might feel down, discouraged, and even depressed and frustrated, but deep down…

I still believe there is hope.

It will get better.

I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but I know it will happen. Even if I can’t rely on my own knowledge. Even if I get so down that what I forget what I know.  I know that other people who love me know there is hope (see my post Borrowed Hope).

“I am a success today because I had a friend
who believed in me and
I didn’t have the heart to let him down”

 – Abraham Lincoln

This past week I met someone who I knew about 20 years ago. I only met him once but he was a friend and work colleague of my then husband. It was at an extremely difficult time in my life. I was struggling with severe depression, PTSD and Anorexia Nervosa. I was being judged by all sorts of so-called friends and extended family.

But this man seemed to accept where we were at, and he supported my husband at a time that he needed all the support he could get. I know that I was far from easy to be married to at that time.

This week, this man reminded me that spring follows winter, and dawn follows night. It was a simple reminder of something I knew, but had forgot.

Spring starts in New Zealand this week, although it’s been a few weeks early. The weather here has been great and the spring flowers are blooming.

Image credit: Anita Martinz, Wikipedia.org Colorful_spring_garden.

Perhaps spring is my favourite season for this reason. I need to be reminded over and over again that spring follows winter. There is an end to the dark and cold. Even to the depression and despondency. It might not come for me this week, but I have hope that it will come. And that’s what matters.

To be fair, I know that spring can also contain it’s challenges. Life will be better but it might not be all plain sailing.  There might still be times of darkness. That’s the reality of mental illness. I think I’ve got to a point in my life where I can accept it, even if I don’t always like it.

Thanks for reading

Cate

The Day The Music (Lithium) Died

It was Thursday when every came to a peak. I have been sick for nearly a year.

I’m talking sick beyond that which I would call ‘normal’. Because regular readers (and I know it’s difficult to be a regular reader when I haven’t been posting anything, so thank you for hanging in there) will know I have Fibromyalgia, which makes it hard to define anything as ‘normal’.

Getting doctors to hear me has been hard, but I have persisted. Over the year I have been diagnosed with Osteoarthritis, Stress, raised white cell counts and lowered kidney function.

But the music died with one last blood test. The results showed I had lithium toxicity. It was time for the music to die.

Lithium toxicity is serious. You can die from it, and that’s the reason my doctor sent me straight to hospital (do not pass go!). Not quite serious enough to warrant an ambulance, I spent yet more money (I don’t have!) on a taxi to the hospital beacuse by now I had been ordered to stop driving.

Yes, they’ve been expecting me. My bed was ready and my name was on the wall.

It’s fair to say that I was nervous (beneath the myriad of symptoms on display and feeling decidedly unwell. Check Google if you want to know about the symptoms ). I know some doctors don’t understand that not all lithium users have Bipolar. I don’t. I was prescribed lithium for chronic suicidality and treatment-resistant depression. At the time, no one realised I had Borderline Personality Disorder.

But the more pressing concern I had is that not all doctors understand that you don’t just stop lithium. What I needed was a psychiatrist, who understood these things, but at that time of day, there was not a chance.

I was to a large extent, now at the mercy of the medical profession. Many hours passed as I lay in my allocated bed next to the nurses’ station (read that this means they were fairly concerned about me). I was in an assessment unit, and with my barely functioning head, I watched staff go hither and thither assessing what I guess is about 40 medical patients.

Eventually, the rush of staff around my bed died off. I wondered why, but later came to the conclusion they had decided I’m not about to die. Phew!

Finally, a fully-fledged doctor (read not simply a medical student sent in to ask all the embarrassing and not-so-embarrassing questions) came and announced that my lithium intake has to stop (immediately), and I had been admitted for four to five days, to “watch and see what happens”. Now, that’s scary!

My heart sunk. I’d been in plenty of hospital beds before, and I knew I didn’t want this. To start with, the pillow was horrendous (I was well enough to have worked this out). I was struggling to speak by now (probably the toxicity but no one is really sure) but I struggled to utter that I’d rather do this waiting at home.

Several more hours passed before the head doctor arrives at my bed. She agreed that I can do the waiting at home (the New Zealand Health System is such that I knew ‘they’ wouldn’t want to keep me in an expensive hospital bed if they don’t need to) but she lists off her demands. Blood tests every day, no lithium, etc… go directly to hospital if I feel worse.

Several more hours passed before the paperwork is done and I am discharged into what is a cold, winter night.

An aside at this point is that I am scared of the dark. Yes, an adult scared of the dark. Actually terrified. Think PTSD. I am alone and I am still feeling dreadfully unwell. I’m still struggling to speak. Oh and my heart rate is still pounding. But sent off into the night I had been and eventually I found a taxi home. I somehow convinced the driver to drive up my long drive to stop at my front door.

So the music (lithium) had been stopped. Remember when I said I was nervous that this would happen. Well, now I am terrified. For 13 years I have taken lithium (perhaps religiously) and in that time I have regularly been told that I should not stop taking my lithium. I realise this is something of a medical emergency, but still… I’m not meant to stop taking my lithium.

And what is going to happen now?

I describe lithium as music simply because taking lithium set the music going again. It saved my life. I went from an out-of-control, mentally ill, struggling-to-stay -alive (Scrub that! I was doing everything I could to end my life) person. I had been like that for about 10 years. It’s amazing that I hadn’t achieved my purpose. In desperation (because me and the doctors had tried everything) the doctor suggested lithium. And it changed my life. Maybe not overnight, but in time the music started again. My life was back. Obviously life was changed, but the important thing was that I had it back.

♦♦

At this point, I have been off lithium for six days and I see my doctor today to decide what happens next. Do I go back onto lithium or do I accept that lithium has done its day and I can’t have it anymore?

And that’s what terrifies me. What happens to me if I don’t have lithium? It saved my life. Ok, so it turned my life around. I am still alive because a doctor had the sense to try just one more drug. And she got the ‘right’ drug for me.

I am scared terrified that my mental health will plummet into the depths. Will my hold on life disintegrate? I simply don’t want to go back to the life I struggled with 13 years ago. No hope. No desire to live.

My ability to blog has been seriously affected by my health over the last year. It hasn’t just been about lithium toxicity, but rather a whole lot of issues that have yet to be resolved (or at least managed). That said, I love writing and I love blogging. I am going to try to get this going again. That way you can read what happens next, and maybe I can share the hope.

Meanwhile, some music:

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Hope… I’m Back Writing It

It was six months back, my Last Post.

At that time I was sure that this blog had done its time.  I had my reasons, and they were enough for me to sign off something that I had loved for three years. But I missed it.  I missed you, and in time a certainty grew inside me, that just maybe this blog hadn’t done its time. Now I know I want to be here again, and so I’m back.

You’ll see that there are a few cosmetic changes.  It was time for a facelift.  What remains are the daisies, and that’s because daisies have always been a symbol of what I want to be writing about.

It’s not just hope.  It’s about what daisies stand for. Look at the image above and think about daisies for a moment. The daisies grow almost anywhere. In the grass, they get trodden on, and perhaps worse still get decapitated in a lawnmower. Yet they keep growing back. They are completely resilient and keep growing almost no matter what.

What better symbol for a blog about getting through some really difficult times (both mental and physical illness) with a sometimes underrated thing called hope?

Hope is explained in many different ways.  I don’t think it is possible to put just a few words into one definition. Rather I believe that we each need to find our own definition. Something that means something to me (or to you).

Perhaps most commonly used as a definition is the phrase ‘Hold On Pain Ends‘. If that describes your situation and works for you, then that is something you can use.  But it doesn’t work for me for one reason: the pain doesn’t necessarily end. I have come to a point where I have realised that I have to find hope in spite of pain. I’m working on that.

A little over three years ago, I wrote this about my understanding of hope:

“It’s a specific belief that the future looks better and I can make a difference in my own recovery.”

Hope Is A Four Letter Word I Use Now

Maybe it doesn’t work for you.  Certainly other writers will have penned it better.  That doesn’t matter though, because what matters is that it works for me.

“Better than this”

It’s simplistic, but it’s manageable regardless what type of pain I’m in, and what degree of pain is my current reality. I know that ‘better than this‘ can be and so with that in mind hopefully I keep on going.

So how do you define hope? What works for you?

After six months of very little writing and almost no reading, it’s going to take me a while to get going again.  My reading is completely affected by my concentration levels.  Brain fog, courtesy of fibromyalgia, is to blame for that. As I am able, I look forward to getting back to your blogs. Please bear with me.

Cate

PS: You may notice that I’ve changed my gravatar (see to the right of the screen).  My old one didn’t work for me after three years.  This new one is formed from a photograph of street art built around construction sites in Christchurch, where I live.  I love it, and I believe that ballerinas must from hope in pain as much as anyone.

Further reading

A New Look at Daisy (Bellis Perennis) PositiveHealth.com

Why Can’t I Have Both?

It’s been a while… I know.

It’s just on two months since I disappeared off the blogging trail.  No explanation, just not there.  My apologies for the ‘no explanation’, but it just had to be.  The short story is that I came to a point where it was necessary for me to question whether my participation in the blogosphere was helping or hurting me.  Was I getting out of blogging what was good for me, or was it actually causing pain?  Ideally it would be great to say my participation couldn’t possibly be hurting me, but that’s simply not true.  I have yet to resolve the issue in my mind, and so in the meantime I will only be posting sporadically, when something is weighing particularly heavy on my mind.

I admit too, that pulling back in my participation has also included cutting back on how much I have been reading others’ posts.  That has simply been too hard, particularly with writing comments.  But I do still have a desire to support the blogs I follow and I will be back eventually.

Meanwhile, a dilemma falls before me.  It’s not one that is new to me, but perhaps this time it is a bigger issue because of the consequences involved.  Two options are before me and I wish so much that I could have both.  Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way and particularly in the issue of mental health versus physical health.  So often it seems the option is one or the other.  Why can’t I have both?

This past week I finally got in to see a Pain Specialist to consider how best to treat my Fibromyalgia.  I’ve been waiting for this for several years now, so it was so great to finally be there.  Regular readers will be pleased to know that I also finally changed my doctor (General Practitioner) a few weeks back.  That, and seeing the Pain Specialist has finally given me some hope that treatment is possible.  Unfortunately though, it looks like it might come with a cost.

The Pain Specialist has recommended a medication for me to try, which if it works for me, could turn my life around in terms of the pain and fatigue that I have on a daily basis. What the medication recommended isn’t important to this post as the last thing I want to do is get into a conversation of ‘what works for who‘.  I don’t see the point in that simply because we all respond to medication differently.

It was not possible for me to start on the medication straight away as it was necessary to get funding approved from the New Zealand health system.  The hope was that by the end of next week I would be able to start.  It would take some weeks to get to optimum dose and so to work out if it was effective.

It was all sounding great, until I came home and did my own research on the drug.  I am particularly careful to read up on medication I intend to start on because of firstly adverse interactions with other medication but also because of those lovely side effects we all dread.

The interactions were listed as moderate, but I had discussed it with the specialist and we agreed that with careful monitoring it would be ok.  But the side effects were different.  All the usuals, including my dreaded weight gain… but here’s the one that stopped me in my tracks:

“you should know that your mental health may change in unexpected ways and you may become suicidal (thinking about harming or killing yourself or
planning or trying to do so)”

Added to that was:

“….panic attacks; agitation or restlessness; new or worsening irritability, anxiety, or depression; acting on dangerous impulses; difficulty falling or staying asleep; aggressive, angry, or violent behavior; mania (frenzied, abnormally excited mood); talking or thinking about wanting to hurt yourself or end your life; withdrawing from friends and family; preoccupation with death and dying; giving away prized possessions; or any other unusual changes in behavior or mood”

It speaks for itself.

I know that this is not the first, or only, medication that has these possible side effects.  There is the well-known anti-smoking medication which I have always said I would never risk taking because of the possibility of suicidal thoughts.  Then there are of course, many anti-depressants and other medications for mental illnesses which have similar risk.

I know that.   I don’t like it.  I think it is crazy, but I know that’s the pharmaceutical world we live in.  What bothers me is that I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Yes, these are possible side effects and might not happen but I have to be prepared for their possibility.

For just a few hours, from leaving the Pain Specialist to getting home and doing my own research, I had some hope for the possible end of my pain (or at least significant reduction).  I started to think about being able to get back to work, and was even mentally rewriting my out-of-date CV.

This drug offered me hope… but at the expense of my mental health.

Do I restore my physical health while risking my mental stability?  Or do I say no to the drug, continue to be limited in my physical health, but be sure my mental health is maintained (at whatever level it is currently at).

This is a really hard one.  Yesterday I was by chance reading Lulu’s post on her blog Sunny with a Chance of Armageddon on a similar issue she was facing. Which do we preserve?  Mental health or Physical Health?  It seems that this is a common dilemma we face when we have mental illness, and I’m coming to the conclusion that we each have to make our own decision.  For each, it will be different.

Personally, while I haven’t reached a decision on my dilemma, my inclination right now is to preserve my mental health (which would practically mean avoiding this particular medication).  While my mental health is relatively stable now days, I continue to struggle.  I have been at the bottom of the pit in terms of mental illness. Years of hospitalisation, heavy medication, ECT and the many harmful things I did to myself including suicide attempts.  I had suicidal thinking for a very long time.  I have no desire to go back there.  I suspect I would find it difficult to crawl out of the pit again.

Do I try for stable physical health?  Or stable mental health?  I hate the way my life is dominated with pain right now, but perhaps surprisingly, I think I would rather have that physical pain than to go back through the mental pain I lived with, the worst of which was through the late 1990’s.

On Tuesday I will see my (new) doctor and talk to him.  Maybe I’ll find the cash and go see my rather expensive psychiatrist too.  The problem for me is that while my medical notes are full of mental illness, none of the doctors involved knew me at the worst of my mental struggles.  They haven’t seen that Cate.  They don’t know how bad it can get for me.  I do.

There are no guarantees in this game.  I could have no side effects and get good pain results too.  It just might not happen… but I’m not a lottery player and even so, I just don’t like my odds.

But forget about my dilemma for a moment…   what would you do?  Maybe you’ve already faced this issue.  How did you deal with it?

“No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Lessons I Must Have Missed

Do you ever get the feeling that perhaps you missed some of life’s essential lessons?  Somehow you just weren’t there for that lesson, or maybe you had something distracting you, so you just weren’t paying attention?  I’m not talking about school lessons but rather lessons in the things we needed to know to be able to function adequately as a human being.  Lessons in things that would substantially help us get through life.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I very definitely missed some lessons which could have made life a whole heap easier and maybe even less traumatic for both myself and those close to me.  The missing lessons for me centre around emotions.  I seriously don’t think I ever learnt anything useful until I was very sick and depending on a very good therapist to get me through.  It’s more than a little sad really, and it goes along way to perhaps explaining where my relationship with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) came from.

BPD is a hard disorder to get your head around simply because there are so many variations. We are certainly not all the same, as many websites suggest.   There are usually many things going wrong to warrant a diagnosis, but in my mind it all centres around emotions and the ability to express and manage those emotions.

So here are a few of the lessons that I may have missed, and which may have contributed to the existence of BPD in my life.  They may seem a little disjointed, but bear with me.  There is very definitely a pattern.

Lesson Missed #1
It’s okay to feel hurt

Remember that awful little rhyme that has wrecked havoc on the minds of so many girls with curly hair?

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good, she was very, very good.
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Who quotes that at their daughters?  Who tells their little daughter that they are horrid?  It’s horrid that anyone should even write such a rhyme let alone quote it at small girls.  And yes, it was quoted at me.  Apparently it was written for me.  My guess is that I was around four or five.

It’s difficult to remember an emotion back that long ago but my guess is that there was no expressed emotion.  I just knew that I was bad. It was a fact, indisputable by the presence of that word ‘horrid’ being applied to me by people I loved and trusted.  Did they think it was funny?  There is nothing funny in name-calling.

If I was that five-year old again, I hope that I would feel hurt, even betrayed.  It seems only appropriate, but then appropriate emotions were something I didn’t know about for a long way to come.

Lesson Missed #2
It’s okay to feel angry

By the time I got to around 15 I was struggling for a number of reasons. Not that anyone outside my immediate family would have known.  To the outside world I was a good teen who seemed to be doing all the right things.  I turned up at school (and anywhere else I was supposed to be), I passed my grades, I had friends, there was nothing I was doing wrong.  But my family knew differently.

I was a bomb waiting to explode but I had little idea of what was going on.  I guess now that I was mostly angry and frustrated but I had no idea how to express that.  I didn’t even recognise what that meant.  I would simply explode and physically lash out.  That was the only means I knew of getting what was inside out.  It would literally be an exploding bomb with no words.  No words because I didn’t have a clue how to attach words to what I was feeling.

Eventually I didn’t trust myself.  I didn’t understand what was happening, so why would I?  Being unable to temper that lashing out I made some big decisions at that point which have significantly impacted the rest of my life.  I was simply doing the only thing I knew how.  I was holding myself in.  Protecting myself, and more importantly, others.  Too scared to express anything.   Only my family know who bore the brunt of that, aside from me.

Lesson Missed #3
Feelings are NOT thoughts

Fast forward to 30.  I’m in residential treatment for a variety of mental illnesses (although not BPD).  Sitting in my therapist’s office, he has asked me how I felt about something that had happened in my life.  I tell him what I think about it.  He asks me again, and this time points out to me that how I feel about something is quite different to what I am thinking about it.

Bingo!  It might seem obvious to you, but at 30 I had no idea.  I was so shut off to my feelings that I didn’t even know they existed.  I literally thought ‘feelings‘ was another word for ‘thoughts‘.  I am an intelligent person.  But I simply hadn’t had that lesson.

That was a very big day of learning.  Life didn’t get easier because now that I was feeling, I felt every one of those emotions eventually.  It hurt like hell, but at least I was on the right road.  There was some hope.

There were more lessons to come.  I was completely closed off to experiencing what I felt.  It seems I had been right from childhood.  Why?

There are lots of possible answers to that ‘why?‘  I’m not going to get into blaming anyone, including myself.  Right now that just wouldn’t be of any help to me or anyone else.  It just was.  What I can do with having worked through this is to understand better where the BPD diagnosis eventually came from, and continue to work from there toward recovery of some sort.  I think too, that some of the other attributes of BPD which I also have perhaps came about as a means to coping.  If I went into that now, this post would become book length.  But maybe it’s time to explore those in future posts.

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage
you were held captive in.”

— Shannon L. Alder

 

Psychiatric Medication Saved My Life

Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons

I get a little concerned when I become aware of the news of a tragic death being used as a means to increase publicity to a particular movement or way of thinking.  I recognise that many people don’t have a problem with this, and therefore it is important that I state this is my opinion only.  What I say in this post is not fact, and I respect the right of others to have differing opinions.  I know that some of those opinions are based on tragic circumstances and I have no wish to minimise the effect of those circumstances on the people who have and still live them.

If my viewing over the past few days is anything to go by, and I accept that the internet is a large space, it seems to be a growing movement of people against the use of psychiatric medication (and other treatments) to treat mental illness.  I know this is not new.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.  It’s just that there is another side of the story and for some people psychiatric medication is the only life-saving treatment appropriate.

Since Robin Williams’ wife came out and publicly said that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease before his death, there seems to have been a swell in people saying that his death was a result of the medications he was taking for this illness.  The reality is that at this stage no one knows the exact cause of his death.  I don’t believe it is fair on anyone, including above all Robin Williams’ memory, to be making assumptions and statements like this.

I don’t mean to take on the whole Anti-Psychiatry movement with this post, but rather because I have seen so many statements about the dangers of psychiatric medication in the past few days, I simply want to be clear that I have another opinion.

Psychiatric medication saved my life.  I have no doubt of that.  In the nearly 21 years of my mental illness I have been on a vast range of drugs, mostly prescribed by psychiatrists.  I am very aware that most of those drugs were of little or no use to me.  Also many were changed too quickly and therefore didn’t allow time for it to work.  I know they were desperate to find a quick solution.

I experienced a whole heap of side effects, which I could have done without.  One of the side effects I ‘possibly‘ experienced was suicidal ideation.  I say ‘possibly‘ because I have no means of telling whether the severe suicidal thoughts I experienced for around 10 years, from before the medication was started, were caused by the medication I was on, symptoms of my specific illness, or the life situation I was in.

It makes no sense to me (as a lay person) to have psychiatric medication that can cause side affects of suicidal thinking.  What are pharmaceutical companies  thinking?  On that I totally agree with anti-psychiatry, but I also don’t believe anyone could point the finger at any aspect of my life and say that was specifically causing the suicidal behaviour.  They would only be guessing.

Around 12 years ago my psychiatrist at the time made what would be one last change to my medication regime.  I’m purposely not going into details of the actual medications prescribed because I don’t believe that is helpful.  We know that responses to medication are different for everyone.  What has worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

Since that change I haven’t had any more hospital admissions (and I was stacking up admissions before then) and my suicidal behaviour has largely gone.  Yes, I admit there are still thoughts at times, but I can manage them without hospital admissions or crisis intervention.  I have been able to stop self harming.  I have begun to find hope in living.  These are huge changes for me and they literally saved my life.  I continue to take that medication today and will probably stay on it for my lifetime.  That’s okay with me,and yes, even in spite of what it may be doing to my body.

All that said, I don’t believe that all people who suffer from mental illness need to be on medication.  I read a blog post recently that advised sufferers of Depression to eliminate sugar and alcohol from their diet, get out walking and learn to meditate.  That’s pretty standard and I am sure that for some people, that would go a significant way in curing the problem.  But I know that this instruction wasn’t sufficient for me.  I needed more.  I believe that I needed to change the chemicals going on in my brain, and that prescribed medication was the only way to do that.

With Depression I believe that there are different levels of severity(sometimes it would be good if there were different names for those different levels).   Therefore I accept that medication is not always necessary.  If depression can be cured without medication, I think that is great.  But nothing can sway me from believing that for some people medication is the only answer.  I am sure that I would have been dead today had a psychiatrist not taken the time to find the right medication for me, and had I not committed myself to taking it daily.

I also believe that psychotherapy went a long way to contributing to my improvement, but that it is the right medication that really sealed the deal from changing what I will call a suicidal pit to some chance of living.  The medication made the therapy possible.  Without it I wasn’t well enough to undergo that process.  Of course, you probably didn’t know me 12 years ago, but those who do will attest to the fact that my life has significantly changed.

I am not cured and I expect that with the type of mental illness I have, I will continue to have symptoms, but I know that continuing to take the prescribed medication will go a long way to keeping my illness managed and hopefully keep suicide from being an option.

I totally respect people’s right to determine what is right for them.  This was right for me but I understand that it won’t be right for everyone.  But I also believe it is wrong to write off a particular type of treatment which may not be right for one but can be a lifesaver for another.  From all the range of treatments and options available hopefully there is hope.

“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.

You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)