This Is My Fight (Song)

This is my fight (song) right at the moment. It feels like I am fighting all the time, which is a little ironic because I can’t stand fighting.

Put a television scene of any form of violence in front of me and I visibly flinch. I can’t bear to watch so will look away, to the extent of moving my head AND covering my eyes. I just can’t face (excuse the pun) it. Whether it’s violence against human, animal or if it is being self-directed, I can’t go there.

Even violence conveyed as sport is too much, and perhaps that’s why I am a rare kiwi who doesn’t like rugby. There is just too much violence in the game for me.

But then there is one type of violence that I don’t flinch at, and that is when I direct violence at myself. I’m not talking about self-harm, although as I’ve written often enough, it is a battle I lost for many years. It’s not even violence per se that I am referring to, but rather a fight.

I’m fighting my body right at the moment. Imagine this:

An about one inch (two and a half centimetres) below your eye is a one inch round lump. But you can’t see it when you look in the mirror. No one can see it, but if you feel around your cheek with your fingers, you can feel it. It’s solid and it feels enormous. Only you and your doctor know it is there. To everyone else, it can’t be anything because they simply can’t see it.

Yes, I am talking about myself. The lump is on the left side of my face, and it’s really doing my head in. I first went to my doctor about this about nine months ago. She told me that it didn’t matter and that no one (she meant specialists) would remove it because there were more important matters to deal with. I’m not exaggerating.

Well, that doctor and I parted company not long after. It wasn’t the off-hand way she dealt with this and another issue, but rather her inability to understand sufficient English language (my native language). We were constantly struggling to understand each other. I was seeing her because my previous doctor had retired, and I was given little choice. But it got to a point when I realised it was REALLY important that I have a doctor fluent with my language. It sounds silly, until you end up in the situation.

Anyway back to my fight. My new doctor has recently referred me to a specialist to get the lump removed and analysed. Great. (It took me a while to raise the issue again, after being fobbed off the last night.)Although the New Zealand Health System can operate at a very slow pace (usually when you want immediate results) and I have yet to learn how long I might wait.

Meantime I am fighting with myself, because while no one else knows, or wants to know, how important the immediate removal of this lump is to me, it is tearing me apart. In addition to being able to feel the lump in my fingers, I can now simply feel that there is ‘something‘ on my face and the need to get it out is at times unbearable.

I admit I have always been a ‘picker’ (not quite to the extent of dermatillomania ever being diagnosed) and I have a great deal of trouble letting lie any perceived imperfection on my skin. I struggle to let any wound heal itself without needing to pick at it. As early as I can remember I would frustrate my mother by picking at my childhood scabs and so it would take longer to heal and leave a larger scar.

This picking was perhaps the innocent start of my self-harming days. When mental illness started to take over, I simply became more violent and picked up a blade.

Do you see the problem? There are times when I just want to rip this lump out, but a rational me doesn’t because… well, this is my face and I could make a terrible mess. Sadly, other times I don’t feel anywhere near as rational as to  be able to caution myself.

I did tell my doctor of this. I didn’t want to confess to her lest she choose to send me direct to the nearest psychiatrist rather than a plastic surgeon. But she needed to know how urgently I need the issue addressed. Knowing her as I am getting to, I doubt it would make much difference. I just doubt she understands how volatile my mental well-being can be. She has never seen that side of me, and I’m sure she hasn’t had time to read back 20+ years of medical records.

And so I fight, even humming the tune. I fight to be rational about this. I fight to protect my face from unnecessary injury. I fight to preserve what mental health (health not illness! There is a difference.) I currently have.

Every time I do something (or don’t do something) to preserve that mental health, I win. No one else sees the lump. Or no one else sees the fight. But it’s in me, and I will win. I have to.

And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

[from ‘This Is My Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten]

Has this been a completely weird post? Perhaps. Certainly, my mind has gone everywhere while I’ve written. But then, for me, that’s exactly how it is. I hope you’ve been able to follow me. One final note that sadly, this is not the only lump which my body is fighting right now. More about the other one in time.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Shifting The Goal Posts Is Okay

 

Recently I have seen a  number of statements and general topics on social media formats which show what I see as a resignation by sufferers of mental illnesses to a belief that the point at which they are now is where they’re going to be for life.  Examples of statements include:

“It’s beyond happiness now, I just have to exist”

“Getting better is no longer an option”

“I will be depressed for the rest of my life.”

 

I am the first to say that I have been at that point myself.  Ten years ago I simply believed that happiness was not an option for me, and that yes, how my life was then would be how it always would be.

Nothing took away any sense of hope more than these statements.  Actually there was no hope (in my mind) , and I was simply existing.  If I had read a post like this at all, I would have said “it’s easy for you to say” and probably “you just don’t understand my reality“.

But I honestly believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.  Instead, this is what I believe:

“At any given moment, you have the power to say that this is NOT how the story is going to END”

― M.H.S. Pourri

 Frankly I have as much reason as anyone else to close the book, shut up shop and say “this is how it’s going to be“.  I have two decades of diagnosed mental illnesses.  I have been told repeatedly by doctors, who were ready to give up, that this is just how it’s going to be for me.  I know what it feels like to have no hope.  My family knows too how it is to have no hope for me.

25 years ago I was healthy, relatively happy and quickly climbing my way to the top of the corporate ladder.  My goal was to be Chief Executive.  It’s almost funny to think of that now, because that corporate world I was a part of (and loved) seems so foreign to what my life became just a few years later.  One unexpected bout of ill-health, followed by post-viral depression, and my life just spiralled down from there.

I know now that I’m never going to achieve that career goal.  Actually it’s not what I want anymore either.  But I’m not prepared to settle for nothing.  I don’t want to accept that there is no cure, so that my life will be as it is forever.  And I strongly believe that if I accepted that fate, then I would simply be fulfilling a very bleak prophecy.

Credit: Wikipedia.com
Credit: Wikipedia.com

As you may know, I am a Kiwi.  We New Zealanders take a fair bit of pride in thinking we know more about our national sport, rugby, than we actually do.  I admit from the outset that I’m not a rugby fan (there are a couple of us in the country!) but I know enough to know that sometimes it’s okay to shift the goal posts.

One end of a rugby pitch to the other is a long way, especially if you’re being chased by the entire opposing team.  Just watching them, I know it’s a fair workout from one goal post to the other.  I think it’s 100 metres.

Now think about rugby for school children.  We know that full distance is too far, and so young children play ruby across the field (70 metres).  It just makes sense and it’s realistic.  It’s something they can work at to achieve.

Do you need another example?  Try wheelchair rugby.  It’s one of the toughest team sports I’ve seen.  They play on a basketball court.

It’s the same when you’re learning to swim.  I remember my big goal was to be able to swim the whole length of the pool.  But that was unrealistic for this six year old, and so my first aim was to swim across the width of the pool.  And I was so proud when I did.

I can look back at my life 25 years ago and think I’ll never get to my goal and so I may as well stop right here.  Or I can shift my goal posts and work at something that is achievable, in spite of both my chronic mental and physical illnesses.  That has to be better than sitting feeling feeling I’m doomed… and getting more depressed by the minute.

I know that it’s hard to see beyond mental illness, especially those illnesses that are technically with us for life.  I’ve been pretty sick (thanks fibro!) over the past few weeks and yes, I would find it easy to give up and accept an invalid life.

But I don’t want to.  I don’t know exactly what is ahead of me, or even what is possible, but I have hope for better than I’ve got now.  It’s why I use the blog title I do. Infinite Sadness… or hope? is my expression of choosing  hope over what I have lived with through illness.

I don’t know what ‘getting better‘ looks like.  I don’t know what it is going to involve to get there.  I know that my ‘being better‘ won’t look like the life I had 25 years ago.  That’s just not possible now.  There are so many unknowns and obstacles right now, that it would be so easy to settle for never ‘getting better‘.  While it wouldn’t be comfortable, it would be the easy option.  But I simply can not accept that.  I have to hope that it will be better.

One last thing.  Mental Health Awareness Month begins today (on NZ time zone anyway).  Wouldn’t it be great to have it focussed on hope?  Mental Illness is a terrible thing but I believe that no matter what diagnosis we have, there is hope for all of us.

I strongly believe that this following statement applies as much to the mind as to the heart.

If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.


― Shane Koyczan (2013)

 

…And She Flew

Image credit: whakaangi.co.nz.
Image credit: whakaangi.co.nz
.

Remember the kiwi? It’s not a piece of fruit (that’s a kiwifruit) but a small, flightless bird. Our national icon here in New Zealand, s/he lives in the undergrowth of the New Zealand bush doing all s/he can to avoid predators. S/he is an endangered species, and that must be hard when you’re a bird… and you can’t fly. What’s more, as someone pointed out to me recently, s/he also can’t swim. Actually it’s amazing s/he has survived, against the odds, for so long.

According to the Department of Conservation, who work to protect this, and other natural treasures here in New Zealand, there are only about 72,000 of these birds left.  Actually that’s not many, and you won’t see them easily when you come here as they are also nocturnal birds.

Even if you’re not from New Zealand, it’s hard not to be taken with the kiwi.  A bird that can not fly, that hangs out in the dark, and apart from an impressive looking beak, does not have much with which to defend itself.

The kiwi (bird) is where some 4.5 million New Zealanders take their name.  We are also known as kiwis, and personally I’m honoured to be represented by such a bird who faces the odds, time and time again.  That kiwi (the bird) can not fly… but this kiwi (me) is going to fly.

“Come to the edge”, he said.  We are afraid. 

“Come to the edge”, he said. 

They came.  He pushed them, And they flew…”

   – Guillaume Apollinaire    

My favourite quote (above) reminds me that sometimes, even when we are scared, we need to fly.  We have to take a (hopefully somewhat measured) risk and leap into the unknown.  And there we fly…

In five weeks, I am going to get on a plane (actually several) and fly half way around the planet to be with someone I love.  Standing on the edge, there are risks, but I’ve measured them and believe they are worth it.  Aside from the risk of flying half way around the planet to be with someone I haven’t met in person before, I also have to face 31 hours of travelling time.  Yes, that’s right.  31 hours.  That includes stops in Sydney, Bangkok and Dubai before I get to my destination in England.  And that is the shortest possible trip I could afford.

31 hours of sitting on planes, and passing time in airports is not exactly many people’s idea of fun.  The most I have ever done is 15 hours and that was hard enough.  Now I am doubling that, and have to factor into the equation my fibromyalgia.

Anyone with fibro, or probably any type of chronic pain, will be wincing at the idea of this.  It is a huge undertaking when sitting for any extended length of time will see my body seize but, and walking through airports and waiting in lines will see the fatigue set in.  This is not going to be easy, or even pleasant.  But that has been part of the weighing up the risks for me.  I expect by the time I get to England I will be half dead, but it’s worth it.  I have no doubt of that.

I have done my homework on what I should expect of my body but  I admit I haven’t yet considered too closely what my brain function might be like by the end of this.  Will I be able to think straight?  Unlikely but Frank knows to expect a wreck off the plane.  If anything can test our commitment to each other it will be the state of me after that 31 hours.  While it would be nice to think I’ll be looking my best, I know I won’t be.  That’s just how it is.  Sometimes that’s life.

The difficulty with fibro is that I really can’t accurately predict how I will be.  I know sitting immobile is a factor, as is the difficulty of sleeping over that time.  I would love to have one of those seats where you can lie down properly to sleep, but they were way too expensive.  I also know walking long walkways in airports might be difficult.  But I might handle it all really well.  Let’s hope.

Meantime I did some reading.  7 Keys to Savvy Traveling with Fibromyalgia by Tami Stackelhouse, a Fibromyalgia Health Coach provided some interesting food for thought.  Some of it I admit I struggled with though.

One of the first ideas suggested was to use wheelchair assistance in airports.  Hmm.  It might be a good idea, because usually there is a lot of walking in airports, but I’m not ready to face a wheelchair just yet.  I’m struggling enough with hope right now (see Fatigued Hope), without going that far.  Maybe that’s pride, maybe it’s stupidity, and maybe it’s maintaining some sense of self-empowerment.  I think  I need that right now.

What I need from my blogging friends is to hear what works for you.  Have you travelled long distance with fibro?  What did you do to make this as easy, and preferable pain-free, as possible?  And if I wake the morning of departure to a fibro flare, how would I be best to manage that?

I am going to step to the edge, and fly (unlike the kiwi).  Whatever the pain, I know this is worth it.  But anything I can do to lessen that pain, would just make damn good sense.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” 

―    Mary Anne Radmacher

Like Minds, Like Mine

LMLM image

We all know how good it is to find that someone thinks like we do. A like mind, like mine. When we find that like mind is worth connecting and sticking close. Especially if we’re a little bit different from most.  Finally someone gets us.

In New Zealand there is an organisation dedicated to a public education programme working to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness in New Zealand. I love it. A whole organisation, funded by the government (Ministry of Health) no less.

Check out Like Mind, Like Mine’s website  and their Facebook page for more information.

I think this is really exciting to have such an organisation working on stigma, something which I am passionate about.  They are doing a wide range of activities to promote this message and for some years there has been a television advertising campaign working to spread the word that anyone can have a mental illness.  Like Minds have used prominent Kiwis (at times) to spread this message, people who have struggled with mental illness themselves.  Names like ex-All Black John Kirwan, musician Mike Chunn and fashion designer Denise L’Estrange-Corbet all took part in early campaigns to let people know that people like us, (and them) suffer mental illnesses.

So I was really honoured to be interviewed recently for their latest newsletter.  You may as well have told me I’d won an Oscar when they asked to talk to me about this blog.  Wow!  For me, it’s a great opportunity to link up with an organisation doing something I feel so strongly about.  It will also, hopefully, let more Kiwis know about my blog (as well as the other kiwi blog featuredin the article).  If you’d like to read what they had to say about me, and many more topics, here’s the link to their PDF version:

http://www.likeminds.org.nz/file/Newsletter-Archive/PDFs/lmlm-51_web.pdf

“Have no fear when darkness falls because there’s a light that shines within us all. There’s a flame that burns in every heart. It’s the will we have that lights the spark. Once in every lifetime, there’s a chance to stand apart.”

 ~ Theme song from 2002 Winter Olympics

Foraging In Dark Places

Yes, you’d be quite right if you came to the conclusion that I had been missing in action.  I have been doing what all good kiwi do, in order to stay alive.  Hide from anything alleged to be a predator.

Image credit: whakaangi.co.nz
.

This is a kiwi.  (A kiwi is not a piece of fruit, that is a kiwifruit).  Outside of captivity the kiwi is actually pretty hard to find.  They are nocturnal and prefer foraging in the undergrowth, keeping out of the path of their predators.  That long beak helps them in this foraging process.  While it might look strange, sometimes I wish I had a beak like that, so that I could forage away, safely out of harms way, and manage to turn over the good from the bad in the undergrowth.

I might not have the beak I would like but I have been foraging in the undergrowth myself.  It’s a good place to stay safe, keep out of trouble, and reflect.  Sometimes it gets a bit dark and lonely, but then bumping into other friendly birds in the undergrowth could provide for some companionship without risking the broad light of day.  My good friend Ruby and I seem to cross paths in the undergrowth a bit.  And I like that, although both of us seem in positions where we are unable to be of much help to each other beyond recognition of each other’s pain.  While I would never wish pain on Ruby, it is sometimes nice to know that I am not alone in this.

Okay, so what does all this mean, you’re no doubt wondering?

On a literal sense my eyes are now giving me trouble courtesy of Graves’ Disease.  It seems even more likely now that this little number is returning from remission, and it does not please me.   At this stage there is no treatment for my eyes available (until get gets worse and might require surgery).  The worst of it is pain behind the eyes.  The only relief I can get is a dark room with my eyes closed.  It helps a bit for the time I am there, but it does  mean very little gets done.

But it is the figurative darkness that disturbs me most.  I can’t think straight (it’s taken me all day to write this because five minutes at a time is a marathon),  I don’t want to think, I don’t want my feelings.  I don’t want anyone to ask me how I am.  I just want to sleep.  All this spells one thing to me:

D-E-P-R-E-S-S-I-O-N

Perhaps I mistakenly thought that when my medication got sorted out a few weeks ago, that I would be back to me.  The problem though (I think) is that I have been dealing with some very difficult and uncomfortable feelings in therapy lately.  Actually it’s more like a long running saga, but maybe I’m getting some where.  The problem is that it hurts like hell.

I regularly tell other people that feelings are just feelings, neither good nor bad.  And it’s true.  I know it is.  It’s just really hard to practise what I preach when I don’t like those feelings.  I’m trying not to judge myself based on those feelings but I find myself feeling guilty, ashamed and just generally not a very nice person.  I’m quite sure if you knew the substance of those feelings you wouldn’t like me either.

I apologise for not being able to go into the details but I set some rules for myself when I started blogging (using my real name).  There are some things I am simply not able to discuss here because of the impact that could have on other people.

But I don’t think the details really matter.  What this is about it finding a way to do what I tell others to do.  Feelings are just feelings.  They are just are.  But do I accept that when I find myself completely mortified by some feelings, let alone the intensity of them?

I think I did what any self-respecting kiwi does.  Scurry for the undergrowth and hide from predators.  Otherwise those predators (perhaps my judgments on my feelings) will whip my sorry arse.  For US readers read “ass”).  Hmm.

Meanwhile I would like to thank my friend Kevin for coming out looking for this missing kiwi.  I think I needed that.  Thank you Kevin.  I’m not sure how long I was planning on staying there.  And a big thank you to Frank for holding my hand in the dark.

And now I’ve been in day light too long, my eyes are hurting again,  and it’s time to find my darkened room again.

Hope is the feeling that the feeling you have
isn’t permanent.

 – Joan Kerr

Dona Nobis Pacem

“Grant Us Peace”

Trying to achieve peace within myself has been a life-long battle, not helped by long-lasting mental health issues.  Achieving peace is a battle I continue to work on daily.  The Dalai Lama says that peace can’t be achieved in this world until I find peace within myself.  I think he’s right, purely for the reason that I am part of this world.  I am affected by what happens in this world.  Sounds simplistic, doesn’t it?

I live in a small country, almost on the edge of the world, called New Zealand.  Our population is only 4.5 million.  I know that’s pretty small, but it needs to be kept in perspective.  Our statistics might not sound much, until you think about the proportion of people in our population affected by the country’s decision to be a part of war.  We all with be familiar with the six degrees of separation.  In New Zealand, that shrinks down to around two, maybe three degrees of separation.

In the 11 year war in Afghanistan, 11 New Zealand soldiers (including one female) have been killed in combat.  It doesn’t seem like much does it?  But what if one of those 11 soldiers was your flesh and blood?  Then their death becomes personal, and the war has a deep impact on your life.

On top of those 11 kiwi soldiers, there have been many more soldiers from around the world who have died, and then there are thousands of civilians who have also died.  If they were your family, this is very personal.  If you are/were a soldier there, then this is personal.

Six weeks ago New Zealand  sent its last group of soldiers to Afghanistan.  This is the last troops that will be deployed from here, as New Zealand is pulling out its troops in April 2013.  I watched on the television channels here as those troops said their good-byes to their families at the airport.  It was gut-wrenching stuff, not only to see parents saying goodbye to young children and husbands to wives, and vice-a-versa, but for one reason that must have been at the heart of most kiwis watching that day.

Just a few weeks earlier a total of five kiwi soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, in two separate incidents.  Those five were from the same battalion as this fresh group were from, at Burnham Military Camp.

How could this new group of soldiers say good-bye to their friends and family, and have any sense of peace of mind, without this in their heads.  And how could families say good-bye without wondering whether this would be their final good-bye?  Would they come back in a box, like their friends and comrades had?  I dearly hope not.

Peace of mind?  I don’t think so.  All in the aid of fighting a war.

Saying good-bye to troops headed for war is something my father knew only too well as a child.  There was very little peace of mind for him as a six-year-old, and my grandmother, when my grandfather would be sent off to World War Two.  Some 92,000 kiwi troops went to this war, the maths is mind-boggling to consider just how many kiwis were left at home, with little peace of mind.

Grandad as Lieutenant S.T. Reddell (1942)

You can read more about my feelings about my grandfather’s involvement in Peace Not War   (Passion Profile Challenge #1).  He was in the Royal New Zealand Navy Intelligence division.  He ‘officially’ served his time in the War in the National Home Office in Wellington.  ‘Officially’ he never left the country.

Unofficially though, and the reality for my father and grandmother is that, he ‘would go away’ for weeks at time.  They wouldn’t know where, or for how long.  It just happened that the ‘trip away’ would coincide with a naval ship or submarine leaving Wellington harbour around that day.  They could see it leave the harbour from their temporary home in Kelburn.

To this day no one in the family knows where Grandad went, or for how long.  He died in 1969 after a long illness related to his war injuries, but he was never allowed to tell anyone the details of his trips away.  From the rumours, I think I’m glad about that because there would have been no peace of mind for anyone had they known where we suspect he was, or what he was doing.

Peace matters to me on a personal front because of the experience of my father and my grandparents.  But it matters to me on a global basis for much more than this.  I don’t believe that we were put on this planet to fight, kill and injure each other, let alone innocent by-standers.

“We are connected to the sky
and connected to the earth.
Together we are the conductors of nature.
Let our song of connection be forever beautiful.”

Image and words used with kind permission of Alison Pearce (see credits below)

We are connected to the sky and the earth, but we are also connected to each other.  Regardless of our history, race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, sexuality or even simply our thoughts… we are brothers and sisters, as fellow human beings.  However we choose to believe that we appeared here on this planet, and regardless of what higher power we choose to believe or not believe in, we are all one species.  So why would we choose to kill each other?  Why would we choose to destroy another’s family?

I believe that we choose  war over peace because it is easier.  Certainly not easier for those caught up in it, or watching loved ones in it, but it’s an almost simple way to win an argument.  Just kill the opponent, or at least anyone who matters to that opponent.  End of argument.  Apparently.

If we could simply lay down our arms, and talk.

If I disagree with my neighbour, we stand in the drive-way and talk.  It works because we are prepared to listen and understand each other’s  perspective.  It works, and while we have differences, we can still be friends, respecting each other’s individuality.

It’s interesting that in the past two years, living in Christchurch, we have all been through multiple devastating and deadly earthquakes.  As neighbours, we all put aside our differences, and helped each other.  The increased bond between neighbours is one good thing that came from the devastation.  I suspect something similar is happening today in the areas badly affected by hurricane Sandy.

Peace between neighbours reigned for us in Christchurch, and was a very good thing.  More important than arguments was making sure each other had the basic provisions of food, water and shelter.  Maybe it’s a simple way of looking at it, but I believe that simple is often best.  Talking and listening is often best.  It by far beats the need to kill and destroy.

That’s why I have taken part in today’s BlogBlast4Peace.  All of the bloggers taking part in this event believe that if words are powerful….this matters. The wider we spread this message, each in our own way, the more people will agree that the right thing to do is to lay down arms and live at peace.

I encourage you to read some of the hundreds of other blog posts on this subject today.  See the official site at BlogBlast4Peace for more details.

Make a choice, and take a stand for peace, as I have done, and speak out.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Bishop Desmond Tutu
Nobel Prize for Peace 1984

“Never doubt that a handful of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

 – Margaret Mead

Some Very Important Credits

My Peace Globes (used here and on my Facebook page) were kindly created for me by my friend, Michelle Frost.  Check out Michelle’s blog to see what she is saying about peace today at Crows Feet.

Artwork and Prose from Alison Pearce  are both used with her permission.  Alison produces some excellent work, which can be seen at Art That Speaks by Alison Pearce.  Her site is well worth a visit.  Thank you for your co-operation Alison.

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)