TL/DR: I had a breakdown, quit my job, and feel much better

People who don’t know me well or see me regularly didn’t get it. At first only three people believed I’d done the right thing: my counsellor, my psychiatrist, and most importantly, me. Then I started telling people who’d seen how stressed and depressed I’ve been, and every time I got a HELL YES! response was a win. And I’ve been having more and more wins.

When I first went on sick leave in September, I would avoid eye contact if I saw any of my colleagues. A few brave ones have initiated conversation. So when I snuck in to retrieve my emergency shoes and my coffee plunger, I was brave too: davI’d thought about this and I have two reasons for doing it:

  1. To fight the stigma of mental illness and my own shame about it
  2. The people were the best thing about the job.

I mean of course I could say that getting paid was the best thing about the job, but money has never been an easy motivator for me. I’m someone who likes frequent contact with other humans. And my job was weirdly isolating in that I was part of a team that was based somewhere else, it was just me and a part-time colleague surrounded by a stream of clinical staff. We weren’t clinical but we were expected to understand clinical data. In my first performance review, my boss expressed how well I’d integrated: “there’s no difference between you and the nurses.” Yeah, except for qualifications and payscale. I felt closest to the nurses but I wasn’t one. Didn’t get to join in their coffee rounds and shop talk. But they were nice to me. So were the doctors. One registrar came and thanked me personally for my work before leaving for another hospital.

I don’t know if it was my illness that made the work intolerable, or the work that made my illness intolerable.

So what’s better about my life now? I can look out windows and see trees. I can concentrate on tasks without being interrupted at the drop of a hat. I have space and time to look after myself. I can make salads and dance and stretch and aim to achieve two things per day, which is about what my condition will allow right now. I can be sick and go to appointments during working hours without being guilt-tripped. And I’m spending much less money on caffeine to get through the day.

Yes, underneath is shame and guilt. Shame that I’m ill and have to stop and that I can just push through and do the thing like everyone else seems to. Guilt for finally making the decision to take care of myself. Thanks, public health system. You’ve been informative, to say the least.

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God just keeps on whistling and getting his hands dirty

That line I’ve pinched as a title was written by a beautiful bear of a musician called Adam McGrath. It’s probable that I’m drawn to big beardy men because they’re like my dad. I’m fine with that because my dad’s awesome. Anyway this line earworms me often when I’m gardening.

Often I’m gardening with the beautiful person I’ve been dating, who I reckon could found a religion based on topsoil with little effort. He’s been gardening since birth as far as I can gather, and has it down to a fine art. And I do mean art. Like a lot of good art it’s also science and engineering: the order and composition of layers to make a good path, when to turn a heap of compost and how to use some of it to fuel a new heap when you return the finished product to the topsoil. I’m just scratching the surface here, because the chemistry of compost, while amazing, isn’t what I got up from a lack of sleep to write about.

I got up to write about regret.

I don’t generally have regrets. I try to adhere to the philosophy that everything’s a learning experience. I take big decisions slowly and carefully. But one situation in which I didn’t have that luxury is when we buried my mother.

I was a bit selfish when we came to bury my mother. With her gone, I was the person in the immediate family most forthright about making suggestions and decisions. And I dealt with her death by doing things. I was very opinionated that we were going to have an open coffin, and no we were not going to have a creepy veil over it. I think my forthrightness with the funeral director on this issue led him to consider me the default go-to person about further decisions. It was a huge funeral and mum’s flamenco teacher performed in the church, and she was a bit taken aback at the open coffin. I hadn’t thought to warn her. An open coffin was normal to me, just because the first funeral I went to – my little cousin’s – had one. The next funeral I went to – my great aunt’s – did not, and it was weird and impersonal to me.

It felt like the majority of the funeral guests came to the burial. To get to the cemetery we drove past our family home, and the nursing home where mum died. When the coffin had been lowered into the grave, the funeral director offered my dad a bucket of earth and a trowel. Then he offered it to me, and this is the bit I regret: I scooped some soil up with the trowel and poured it into the grave.

My instinct was to touch the soil. I don’t know why I didn’t, except that it obviously wasn’t expected. I was there in my blue fur dress that my mum had made me for my graduation, I’d sat on the red carpet of the steps to the altar and played Leonard Cohen songs on a portable sound system while three hundred people filed up to put paper cranes that my sister and others of us had made in my mum’s open coffin, in which she was wearing a brooch I had made out of shisha embroidery and beadwork, and I used the trowel because that was obviously the Done Thing.

And my mum was a gardener. She taught me the names of all her plants. I followed her around the garden while she watered them on summer evenings in the now-evocative stench of fish-based fertiliser.

I teach my lover the names of lasiandra and aquilegia, and he teaches me to recognise sprouting gorse seeds and to dig out the bulbs of montbretia and the roots of convolvulus. I’m not burying my mother when I get topsoil under my nails and into my fingerprints. But I can feel her smiling.

topsoil

It feels like chocolate cake, only better.

For a decade of my earlier life, my chief obsession was Latin. “It’s like peat,” my friend Rebecca quipped, “it’s dead, but it’s fertile.”  I have no idea if I’m fertile in the traditional human sense, and I’m not interested in finding out. But when I die, I want to be composted. Which gives me an incentive to hold onto life until something like this is legal and accessible.

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A modest proposal?

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock all year, because I just found out last week that words and phrases paradoxically don’t mean what they, well, mean. It’s post-modernism’s reader-as-arbiter-of-meaning gone mad, I tell you. http_3.bp.blogspot.com-hOrHY7ZYxrQUOr98Mbs5wIAAAAAAAAAXMHXKS50rnOAks1600You+keep+using+that+word...

What am I talking about? I’m talking about the phrase “not all men”. I’ve been using it to literally mean “not all men”, as in “not all men are actually rapists”, or “not all men don’t know the difference between a skirt and a dress”. But apparently the speaker/writer doesn’t get to determine the meaning of this particular phrase, the listener/reader does, and it means “not all men conform to what you’re describing as male behaviour and therefore your experience is invalid”.

Now I don’t like this one little bit. I like words to mean what they mean*. And I intensely dislike the way someone can use a permutation of the phrase “not all men”, follow it with an account of how their experience differs from whatever stereotype of maleness has been posited, and be told that their experience is invalid because they dared to say “not all men”.

I am sick of it. I am angry. My anger doesn’t invalidate anyone else’s, or vice versa. I don’t get to tell anyone they’re not allowed to have their own feelings and experiences. I’m not ok with seeing my fellow women** tell men how they must respond when a woman talks about her experience of gender-attributed oppression or violence. Can you not see that you’re just reversing the oppression?

Yes it’s awesome that women are telling their stories of what femaleness is like. But it’s not an either/or, people. Just like men don’t know what it’s like to be female unless they, you know, have been, women who haven’t been male don’t have lived experience of maleness. Men do. And I can tell you from my extensive field research of LIVING IN THE ACTUAL WORLD that men are people too. Humans with human rights, and they are allowed to say what it’s like for them. Telling them to shut up or to only engage in the conversation within your set of rules is oppressive, it leads to people disengaging, feeling hurt and angry, and taking out their frustrations in other ways.

I know that humans like to categorise ourselves into us and them. Maybe it’s impossible, but could we please try to listen to each other as fellow human beings with our own unique stories that aren’t mutually invalidating?

http_www.strangehorizons.com200620060313verbing_weirds_language

*Disclaimer: I’m that pedant who refuses to use “egregious” with its acquired derogatory connotation, I use it to mean what it literally means: [standing] out from the herd.

**Yes I get the irony of the phrase “fellow women”.

 

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My big fat brain

In my last post I alluded to my ex-eating-disorder and how the BMI is evil bullshit.

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I was 16. I’ve finally recovered from actual disordered eating, but I’m less sure I’ve shed a disordered body image. It makes such a stylish matching set with my crappy self-esteem.

I’m finding this a bit hard to come out and say, but here it is:

I identify as fat and ugly.

This isn’t constant. There are times when I identify as only one, or neither. And I realise that both these things are subjective. I have been mightily offended when friends I perceive as slimmer than I am have referred to themselves as fat. I totally get that maybe some people think about me, “how dare that skinny bitch identify as fat?” We compare ourselves to each other. It’s often not helpful, but humans gonna hum.

I believe that the adjective* “fat” describes a feeling more than an objective state. It’s a feeling I’ve felt to varying degrees throughout my life, and part of my self-defence against recurring disordered eating is to work on being OK with that feeling.

This ties into why I think the medical community’s idolatry of the BMI is so dangerous: because it masquerades as objective truth. When I found myself in possession of the data points of my height and weight the other day, I flippantly entered them in to the BMI calculator on the New Zealand Heart Foundation’s website. This is what it told me:

“You are classified as overweight. Your risk of obesity related diseases is high.”

The key underneath this dire pronouncement softens the message somewhat:

“This result means that you may be overweight…if you’re concerned about your weight, we recommend discussing your result with your GP, practice nurse, or dietician.”

Further sanity unfolds further down the page, under the heading “How accurate is BMI?” There’s a brief discussion of how the BMI doesn’t differentiate different types of tissue like adipose and muscle, and of how it isn’t the best indicator for some populations. There’s a host of sounder critiques than I can muster of the BMI’s use as a tool of individual flagellation, but even a cursory review yields such gems as ”In [Minnesotan researcher and BMI-namer Ancel] Keys’ lifelong preoccupation with body composition and fatness he maintained that overweight was not necessarily ‘over-fat’.” Don’t read this article if you’re prone to slipping into ad hominem rage, because he’s quoted as saying some pretty gross stuff about fat people, but it’s useful to note that Keys was upfront about the limitations of this instrument, which seems to have become blunter rather than more refined since the 1970s when it could count as cutting edge.

Unfortunately for the eating-disorder sensitive, the Heart Foundation’s BMI calculator page closes with a large and friendly message about how losing weight is good for me, and invites me to click on a link to learn how. I know how to take care of my recovered self, so I didn’t.

This is one area of self-care I’m confident about. This is how I avoid a relapse:

  1. I don’t weigh myself. Except in situations like this.
  2. I curate my visual diet to include positive representations of diverse body types. I find Instagram awesome for this. My feed is full of badass humans being chronically ill and non-binary and seventeen kinds of beautiful.
  3. I enjoy food. I eat when I’m hungry. I do my best to listen to what my body craves, and to provide it without extrinsic restrictions. I think this one has been the hardest work.
  4. I enjoy movement. I don’t use it as punishment, I do it because it feels good.
  5. I work to maintain positive language around food, exercise, and bodies, often to demonstrate contrast when someone unthinkingly says things like, “I was bad and ate a whole packet of biscuits”, or “this dessert is decadent**”, or “I have to go to the gym”.

I’m proud of this work. I hope y’all weren’t expecting for an inspirational spiel on how I’m ok with feeling ugly, because I’m not. Yes, it’s only a feeling. Yes, feelings are real. Yes, I may well have offensive opinions about it. Yes, that’s another story. dav

 

 

*Fact: the noun “fat” refers to a type of body tissue that AFAIK all humans have. Opinion: I don’t like using “fat” as a noun referring to a fat person any more than I like talking about “the gays”. I think this phenomenon oversimplistically reduces humans to just one of their many and glorious facets.

** From the Latin, de, “down” + cadere, to fall. Have I mentioned lately that I’m pedantic?

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Other things We Don’t Talk About: a long account of how my body doesn’t work properly

TW: medical procedures, bodily fluids, suicidality; white, middle-class, first world, cisgender guilt

I don’t think I’ve overshared about this much, but I have at least one chronic mystery ailment. Anyone who’s spent time with me IRL will know that I disappear to the toilet a lot, and sometimes for a long time.

Sometimes it’s because I feel like I need to pee and physically can’t or won’t pee. Sometimes I have cystitis/urinary tract infection-like symptoms but test negative for cystitis/UTI. Mostly I just genuinely need to pee a lot.

It’s been variously diagnosed as “overactive bladder” or “polyuria”. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me that much, sometimes it makes me want to kill myself. Like when I had to walk out mid-act of a production of my favourite Shakespeare play, or miss a chunk of dance class, or if I have to get up so many times during the night that I feel like I’ve barely slept, never mind the impact on anyone sleeping with or near me.

Because I’m sensitive, I sometimes react unusually strongly to medical procedures which are considered “routine” by those who perform them routinely. In 2011 I had a flexible cystoscopy, in which a camera is inserted through the urethra to examine the inside of the bladder. It felt so invasive to me that I curled up and cried afterwards, and the technician was so puzzled that he asked me if there was anything else going on in my life to make me so upset. No, it actually was just about having a camera on a wire shoved into my bladder. Who’d’ve thunk it.

The result of that ordeal was basically a massive shrug from the urology department, and a guess-prescription for Doxazosin, a drug more commonly used to treat prostate problems. I’ve seen data on nocturia (peeing during the night) in prostate cancer patients, and they have nothing on me.

My GP guess-prescribed me Amitriptyline, an older-generation antidepressant usually prescribed for anxiety, on the reasoning that my bladder and I might have a more restful night if we chilled out a bit.

Seven years later, I’m still on both these medications and still having the same symptoms. After another round of tests for what feels like cystitis, barks like cystitis, but tests negative for cystitis, I got referred to urology again.

I told my GP that I would rather die than have another flexible cystoscopy. I received an appointment for a flexible cystoscopy.

So I called urology several times. No answer. I left a message. No callback. I called again, the day before my appointment, and finally got to talk to a nurse. I asked if it would be possible for me to get some extra sedation. I was told that I could go and get some from my GP if I wanted. The day before the appointment for which I was taking leave I technically didn’t have. Nope.

I turned up for the appointment sleep-deprived and wound up, with my wonderful Dad as my support person. Because I hadn’t had a hospital appointment in a small lifetime, I had to update my contact and emergency contact details, which served to rub in the fact that my ex partner had left me. The secret to good comedy is timing.

Then I almost fainted in the waiting room and had to sit on the floor, and a nice smiley woman came out of the consulting room and surmised that I was having what she’d just had and said that it was uncomfortable but necessary and that the doctor was young and handsome. And then she walked out of there like a non-panicking, non-crying normal person.

The doctor was indeed a fresh puppy, and I told him I would rather die than have a flexible cystoscopy, and he told me that he had reviewed my notes and didn’t think I needed one. Hallelujah! And he prescribed me some other medication that did nothing, but at least I had a followup appointment and instructions to keep a “bladder diary”, which is this annoying thing where you have to record times and quantities of all fluids in and out over 48 hours.

I don’t know how I coped with that 48 hours. Maybe I was more resilient than I am now. I was going through some challenging interpersonal stuff at the time, and the last thing I needed was to check my phone clock every time I got up at night to pee and risk seeing messages or lack thereof. So I relocated my flatmate’s clock from the kitchen and even managed to sleep a bit.

I took my extensive data to the consultant urologist, who has become my yardstick for measuring the quality of medical consultants by failing to fulfil any of the following requirements:

  1. Introducing himself
  2. Reading my notes
  3. Taking any notes (so as to avoid asking the same questions five times over three appointments)
  4. Looking in any detail at my data and calculating total amounts he was interested in (as opposed to asking me to add things up)
  5. Listening to me when I told him about the physical activities I engage in in relation to the “prodigious” amount of water I was drinking
  6. Telling me out loud that he wanted me to do another bladder diary in advance of our next meeting.

Anyway he prescribed me some synthetic ADH (anti-diuretic hormone), and to his credit supported my call to stop taking it when it too made not the blindest bit of difference. All in all, urology again gave a massive shrug, more slowly than the last time though, and with more tedious urine samples. On the plus side, he did refer me to endocrinology to see if I had some hormonal peculiarity that was “driving me to drink”.

The endocrinology department resembles a quieter version of what I’m used to from working in the Blood and Cancer Centre. I was weighed and measured for the first time in many, many years (which lead me to test my eating-disorder-resilience by calculating my BMI and slightly taking the piss on Facebook), before meeting a consultant who still needed to be prodded to introduce himself but who had a much better chairside manner than Mr. Urology. I’m no clinician, but I think he explained the test he wanted me to undergo as a means to determine whether the problem was with my kidneys or my brain/hormones.

Which brings me to yesterday, the day of my “water deprivation test”. No caffeine or alcohol for the previous 48 hours. No fluids for the previous 12 hours. Toast for breakfast and off to the hospital for an 8am start. It was quiet again in the endocrinology department and I took a look at the reading material in the waiting area, which seemed to be exclusively about diabetes except for a pleasingly prominent poster advertising health service support for trans youth.

A very nice nurse took me through my paces. Apparently I’d lost weight since my last visit, or my shoes weigh 3kg. Then I had my first ever line put in. I’m a bit embarrassed that I couldn’t tell what sort of line it was, despite hanging out with so many chemo nurses. So here’s a picture for you lot:dav

This was not as comfy as it looks. I got all lightheaded and nauseous, like I did when I tried to donate blood, despite only having a tiny tube taken out for testing. And my arm was SORE. Apparently normal people would get used to it and be able to bend at the elbow. No such luxury for me. I recovered enough to get up for the hourly routine of attempting to pee for measurement and analysis (no such luck until attempt #3, grr), getting weighed again, waiting for the next round. I was able to snooze a bit to escape my increasing thirst and the pain in my arm (this was my second day of caffeine-freedom, see).

I think it was on the third round of blood extraction that I stopped bleeding. I tried re-angling my arm. I tried clenching and unclenching my fist. The nurse tried poking the hardware and re-flushing my vein with saline solution. My body refused to bleed.

And so it came to pass that just as I was feeling awake enough and motivated enough to start writing about this, the nurse had to cannulate my right and dominant arm. I have a less obvious elbow-vein here, but my tattooist has considerately and aesthetically left some negative space right in the middle of my elbow-pit.

Again with the faintness and the nausea and the pain and the blood sample and the urine sample (finally!) and the weighing, followed by clumsily reading my book and operating my phone with my non-dominant hand and whinging on Facebook about my weird veins.

And the hourly routine began again, and sure enough, my right arm had joined the resistance and wouldn’t bleed either.

At this point I was tired and bored and dehydrated and hungry and in pain and frustrated that my body WOULD NOT WORK and WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT OF ME and why am I bothering and the usual tears and catastrophization that I do. The poor nurse, who was in new territory with my serial non-bleediness, gave me the choice of deferring the test to another day or going straight in to another vein for blood. I hate leaving things unfinished, so I let her go into my wrist. Right on the bone, which was bound to be ouchy. And I remembered holding my ex’s hand when he was in ED and having wrist-blood taken, and it was very not fun. And it was not fun but it could have been worse. btf

It’s amazing the brave faces we can put on and the discomfort the human body can endure. I know I haven’t been anywhere near the physical wringer than has tortured many of us, but I’m still kind of impressed with myself. And frankly the mental and emotional pain I’ve been through is real and not diminished by the possibility that, if we could measure such things, others have suffered “more”.

I remember part of my brain thinking at the time: at least I don’t have hardware in either arm anymore – but I really didn’t feel as Pollyannaish as that sounds. Most of my brain was going: MY BODY IS CONTINUALLY FALLING APART *sotto voce* remember you’re not well and you’re dehydrated and caffeine-deprived.

At 1:45pm I was allowed water. And coffee. And yes, they made the world a better place. And I was allowed lunch and to go out into the rain, armed with paraphernalia and instructions to take two more urine samples four and ten hours after the last blood test, and to drop them off at the lab the next day (the lab strikes anxiety into my heart because it’s a business that seems to be at the vanguard of replacing human staff with machines, but that’s another story).

I felt ok. I could walk and I was calmer than after that flexible cystoscopy of old. But the whole rigmarole had clearly bashed me around a bit. My physical anxiety symptoms have been rampant, and I’m still sore in the first cannulation site over 24 hours later. I really hope this round of tests provides a clue as to some of what’s wrong with me. And I’m puzzled about my non-bleediness, and worried that it could cause further difficulties.

Throughout this process I’ve been thinking about how privileged I am to be educated, white, middle-class, cisgender, and living in a first world country with a more accessible healthcare system than many (as I wrote this account I could hear hypothetical readers asking in horror what the hell this spoilt brat is complaining about). At the same time I’m trying to guard against flagellating myself with privilege guilt, and to remind myself that privilege does not mean immunity from all pain, and that my pain is real.

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Creativity will out, apparently

At my first appointment with my new psychiatrist, he said, “you can’t tell me the person sitting in front of me isn’t creative.” The most creative thing I’d done in the previous week was dye my hair red and blue.

I’ve been thinking about creativity, how it makes my world worth living in, and how I’ve lost sight of that over recent years.

What the hell happened?

Well, first my partner left me and I had to minimise all my belongings into a suitcase and a few friends’ spare rooms or basements. And a spreadsheet titled “where my stuff is”. I had no idea where I was going to live or work, so making physical art of any kind was out of the question. But I was still teaching and performing dance, so although I was in a lot of tears at the dance festival the next month, there is photographic evidence that dance brought me moments of joy. And I was still writing every day, mainly mantras and things I was grateful for.

Then after two weeks of fierce hunting, I was offered a job. I’d have to start three hours earlier than I was used to, so I had a friend shave my hair off and started getting up early so that I could write, meditate, and do yoga before work. Another wonderful friend gave me a great deal on a room in her house and let me cry mascara smudges onto her fluffy white bathrobe.

Learning a new job is exhausting. I had to give up teaching after-work yoga. I remember getting home from work on Friday, doing the vacuuming, and having no energy to do anything except sit on the couch and watch bad TV. A workmate commented that surely I went out partying, because I was “young and not pregnant”. I would stay at work late, or come in early, or go to class then back to work, because I couldn’t get the day’s workload done in my allotted hours and the next day’s workload wouldn’t wait. I kept telling myself that it was only until I learnt the job and got up to speed.

Gradually I did less writing and meditation and home practice because I knew I needed sleep. My friends needed their basements and spare rooms back so I did another round of ruthless decluttering. No more fabric stash. No more boxes of bits to be made into other things. No space or time to create physical art. For a year I didn’t post on my blog. For a year I stopped teaching dance.

For a year my creativity fought its way out in taking photos and appreciating the creativity of my family and friends and of the beautiful world I live in. I joined Instagram for photos of my baby nephew and posted pictures of flowers and trees.

For a while I managed to do my work within the assigned hours. There were always changes and additions and nothing felt finished or good enough. After one new piece of weekly work arrived, my indirect manager told me there was nothing I could do about it and exhorted me to do it for the patients. If I called in sick, my direct manager would counter with “I don’t have anyone to cover you”. I started to realise that if I kept catching everything that was thrown at me, I would BE one of the patients.

There was too much work and I could never do everything right and I wasn’t good enough. It should be a simple job and I must just be useless because I couldn’t do it. I was snapping at people I actually liked and who were just trying to do their own jobs. I knew I was hideous to be around. My headache started as I arrived in my office every day. My arms got heavy and it took longer to lift them. I started having to stay late because I couldn’t work as fast. Every time I took time off, something would go wrong. I tried so hard to document my role clearly, but I can’t have done it well enough because it should be simple for someone else to step in, right?

As I wrote the last paragraphs, I could recognise my depression talking.

I started having panic attacks. At work, during my long runs. Often they were accompanied by suicidal urges. Now that I’ve accepted that they were panic attacks, I can look back and see that I was already having them in primary school and many times since.

I left work early one day and went to my doctor, who gave me a medical certificate for a week off. During that week I was advised and supported by friends to contact Te Haika (the mental health crisis team) on account of my suicidal urges. I was fortunate to be seen that week by an excellent psychologist who saw that I was unfit for work and has been monitoring my medication and environment closely. Last week I had a terrible panic attack in his office and he calmly got the equipment to check my blood pressure and pulse. Writing about it, I feel my body remembering. Mental illness is physical.

My dad was with me. When I asked if he’d ever been proud of me, he said yes and gave examples. He put his arm around me and took me for a slow walk in the sun, and held my hand as we crossed the road to where there were pine trees. It reminded me of when he used to take me to the forest to gather pinecones for the fire. I took my shoes off to feel the pine needles and the grass and climbed through an inviting space in one of the trees. I’m crying as I write this. 46055905_10155559478731331_5449921484073992192_o

I’ve started dancing again. My troupe has been invited to some performances, and I’m so happy that they still want to dance and are stepping up to organise practices and costuming and music. On Saturday three of us went on a road trip and played in an adventure playground and explored a mysterious dead end road to the coast.

I started posting on my blog again. People I admire compliment my writing. One of them planted the idea of going back to study creative writing.

I started meditating and teaching yoga again.

A lot of people have voiced appreciation of my openness about my mental health. It’s worth continuing to talk about it for those people. I know there are others who have needed to protect themselves by stepping back, and I respect that too.

I saw a counsellor a while ago, when I was still well enough to be applying for jobs. She recognised that I wasn’t using a lot of my talents at work, and that despite being stressed, I was also bored, and that gave my brain space to create anxiety, because that’s something my brain is good at.

I don’t think I’m spiralling out of control anymore. I think I’m spiralling into balance. I need to make work fit around my needs rather than the other way around. Any ideas are welcome!

Posted in ATS, costuming, dancing, goodness, I am a big old hippie, never stop learning, sickness, Yoga | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I have strong opinions on buses

This is not about the recent and disastrous changes to Wellington’s bus systems, although I’m not a fan. This is about my possibly weird personal code of conduct on public transport.

Being on buses has been exacerbating my anxiety recently. Much of the time I spend on buses is spent doing the following:

  1. Worrying that I’ll catch diseases from being in a confined space with lots of people
  2. Worrying that I/my ridiculous quantity of bags am/is in someone’s way
  3. Worrying that I’ll be late because the bus is inching through traffic
  4. Worrying that I’ll pick up the smell of tobacco smoke from the passenger next to/in front of/behind me or formerly in my seat
  5. Wishing I’d walked/run instead
  6. Being annoyed that people are sitting on aisle seats when the window seats are unoccupied
  7. Being annoyed that people are taking up an entire seat for belongings that could easily be accommodated on their lap
  8. Being annoyed that people are standing when there are seats available, thus making it more difficult for people to access said seats and to get on and off the bus
  9. Reading (this is my favourite).

Today, for various reasons, I ended up taking several buses. Thankfully, my anxiety was triggered much less than it has been in recent days.

One of the problems with the changes in bus services has been insufficient bus capacity for people travelling on certain routes at certain times. For the first time in memory on my route home from town, a bus bypassed my stop because it was properly full. No worries, another one was due shortly. And miraculously it arrived as scheduled, and was not full. A few of the people who got on at my stop chose to stand by the rear exit (see point 8 above), and I could see that there were a few seats at the back, so I excused myself past the standees and hastened thither. I swiftly assessed the situation and perceived that a couple was occupying the two seats at one side of the long back row, the next three seats were empty, and a lone passenger occupied the window seat on the other side.

What would you do?

My thought process was as follows:

  • Sitting right up next to the couple would seem to unnecessarily impose myself on their couplespace
  • Taking the middle of the three remaining seats would make the rest of the back row seem less accessible to others, and would force another couple who might hypothetically join us to separate
  • Taking the seat next to the lone passenger was the most considerate choice.

Seriously, have I missed something? I want to know.

Anyway, I sat down next to the lone window-seat-occupant, and it’s just possible that the side of my leg or my bag (I only had one bag! Those who know me will be impressed) might have touched her. I know that Kiwis are big on personal space but I’m sure I would have noticed if I were the only one of us to accept accidental touching as a necessary accessory to peak use of public transportation. Anyway.

“Jesus!” She exclaimed.

“Where?” I responded. We looked each other in the eye for a long moment.

“Not you, that’s for sure,” she finally said, and commenced an opprobrious tirade, in short exhorting me to stick to my own seat*.

“It’s. A. Bus,” I pointed out. “This is my seat, that is yours.” In my view we were both contained appropriately within our seats.

“And?”

“And nothing.”

Her rant continued. I endeavoured to tune it out and to read my book, but was distracted by the salient points that I was a bitch, she had cancer, I was welcome to it, the last thing she needed was someone sitting on her. Also, I was a bitch.

Knowing that her feelings were nothing to do with me, and wagering that any olive branch of sympathy I might proffer would be steadfastly refused (I know what it’s like to cling to one’s own hurt and anger), I held my peace. Eventually she elbowed the air in front of me, got up, excused herself, explained that she didn’t want to sit next to such a bitch, and barged forward to stand near the rear exit (see point 8 above), whence she performed a sustained demonstration of the raised middle finger in my general direction.

The people seated nearby were very nice and asked if I was ok and such, saying I didn’t deserve that at all, and concurring with my estimation that it was nothing to do with me.

Unfortunately my rules of personal public transport etiquette required me to move into her vacated seat (see point 4 above), it was the least I could do as I had unwittingly facilitated further standee congestion as per point 7.

And I was a little rattled and I did almost cry but not quite, and I did fleetingly think that maybe I could have defused the situation with sympathy, because I do believe I understand how she felt to some extent. But I’m focusing on the fact that I withstood the episode an estimated 50% better than I would have a day ago, and a good 100% better than I would have the day before that, and it’s amazing how much better I feel after yesterday.

 

 

*I’m not sure why I’ve started writing like a Wodeshousian translation of Propertius. I blame my friend Little James.

 

 

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This is what the mental health system looks like to me today

Last night I wrote a post titled “this is what feeling suicidal looks like right now”. I didn’t post it because last I heard, talking about suicide made it more likely to happen. Maybe thinking has changed and I should have just posted it because here I am talking about suicide anyway.  But I didn’t, instead I worked through the awesome CBT worksheet that my counsellor gave me and I felt a teensy bit calmer, and I went to bed because I was too tired to do suicide so I might as well sleep.

The hardest thing on my to do list yesterday was to call my dad, and I did it, and I told him I was miserable and I asked him to come to my psychiatrist’s appointment with me. This was today. I woke up feeling sluggish and sad and went to meet dad for lunch. I’m not good at talking about my feelings with my dad. We talked about the news and town planning and the differences between Armenian and Turkish music and cuisine.

One thing that really pisses me off about the stigma that mental illness still has is that my appointment was in this building: IMG_20181029_125609[1]

The non-street-facing entrance is slightly more forthcoming in labeling, but I don’t feel I, a person with depression and anxiety, am covered by this signage: IMG_20181029_125734[1]

Anyway my psychiatrist is, in my opinion, good and likable. It’s probable that his knowledge of depression comes entirely from study and clinical practice, but he does seem to understand how impossible everything feels for me right now. My poor dad had to listen while I described the suicidal thoughts I had last night. And the doctor was very clear about the followup conversations being about two different things: environment and treatment. Environmentally we agreed that I would have daily phone contact with the crisis team, and that the option of going into respite accommodation was there and I could ask for it. In terms of treatment, the first thing we’re going to try is increasing my antidepressant dose over the next week, and if that doesn’t start to make things better we’ll look at other medications.

The things that really gave me confidence were that the approach wasn’t solely medical, and that he talked about reducing the antidepressant dose when I’m better. I’ve never had a doctor differentiate between a treatment dose and a maintenance dose before. There was an emphasis on continuing my CBT/counselling work and learning tools and doing the work on my crappy self-esteem to help prevent a relapse in the future.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so positive after a session, especially in comparison to how hopeless I felt going into it. I’m exhausted though. I’d forgotten that that’s part of it. I prescribe cheesecake and yoga.

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Actually four is the loneliest number

Don’t read this. This is my depression speaking.

 

I am stupidly lonely.

I flat with a family of three. They are lovely humans. I smell cooking smells on the weekend and hear parenting happening I know I need to hide in my room and cry because I’m not part of that.

I’m dating a beautiful man who has two kids, and the other day one of them referred to me as “not exactly stepmother” and it kind of warmed me, we’d been having dinner at the park and were playing on the swings. It was a rare moment that I could pretend to be part of a family, but really I’m not, because they don’t need a stepmother, exactly or otherwise, they have a Perfectly Good actual mother, and their father and I are just two lonely people who are too hurt to commit to each other.

My sister and her husband have the best one-and-a-half-year-old in the world, and I have to bite my tongue at the way they divide parenting labour because I know nothing of adulting, and when my dad is there all grandfathering I can say goodbye and it seems like too much of an imposition even asking for hugs.

My brother-in-law has a proper family with two parents and everything and they Do Christmas and my sister gets to go and my dad gets to go and I don’t, because I’m supposed to have my Own Family by now, but I fucked it up.

And I should be happy for all these people and the joy and the love that they have but I’m too sad and lonely and bitter and bad.

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Tattoos I’ve thought about but will never get: a rant

IMG_20181024_105819[1]I’ve been threatening for years to get “NO HAWKERS” tattooed on my abdomen, so that when someone wearing a beanie and carrying a stack of books approaches me in the street, I can just lift my shirt up. Maybe after unzipping and unbuttoning any number of outer layers, depending on the time of year.

Are the Hare Krishna crew even hawkers? Should I get “NOT OPEN FOR EVANGELISM” tattooed on one side of my ribcage, and “I HAVE NO FUNDS FOR YOUR RAISING” on the other, in case of the Save the Children/World Vision/Greenpeace types?

Yesterday it was Amnesty International. Full marks to them for making themselves recognisable from a distance in their fluoro yellow jackets. They’d staked out all corners of the intersection by one of my dance studios, and despite my concerted efforts at blanking the nearest chap as I walked by, he zeroed in on me with a cheery “How are you doing today?”, which is a risky question to ask, because I could have told him about how I was really anxious about having skipped my anxiety meds this morning, because I was anxious about running out of said anxiety meds, and that it was the first time I’d been into the city in about three days and everything seemed to be threatening to smother me like a slow-moving avalanche of treacle, but that the slow-movingness was of no advantage to me because I was four times more susceptible to gravity than normal. Luckily for him, I just announced “I’m composing a rant about hawkers in my head”, deftly dodged his colleague less than 100 meters away (OK, he was already enlightening someone about forced child marriages), and walked around the entire block to get to my destination so as to avoid passing them again. Which worked out fine for me because the world and I weren’t really trapped in an overgravitated treacle time warp, and I tend to be pathologically early.

I do admire people who do these public nuisancing jobs, whether for money or conviction. I hope stellar and well-paid careers reward their cheerfulness and thick skin. I’d never have made it as a Mormon. But why they waste their time approaching me is a mystery. Maybe it’s not obvious to the casual observer that I’ve squandered all my money on outlandish hair dye and op shop clothes. Or maybe, God forbid, I look like I might care. I can’t afford to care. Of course that doesn’t actually stop me from caring, that would make far to much sense.

I’m terrible and finishing these rants off with some kind of tidy moral or whatever. The end of the last paragraph is the point at which I got of the bus, went into a friendly local pub with the intention of crafting a final paragraph over some fine craft beer, discovered all the tables were booked out for the quiz, stood at the bar awkwardly, then realised that I would quite like to do the quiz so crashed the team of some kindly strangers and aided their efforts with my knowlege of the Greek alphabet. The end.

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