Longing for a “sick day”

With an impending restructure at work, my days have been a bit more stress-filled than usual.  My team of six has been reduced for now to a team of three – and we’re doing our best to keep things going despite the sense of doom and gloom about the place.

In the midst of all this turmoil, staff have been dropping like flies… with record numbers of sick days.  As for me, who rarely gets sick enough to justify a day off work, I’ve been day-dreaming about taking a “sick day” to just, well… decompress.

Sick Day

Spending a day battling the flu wasn’t quite the “sick day” I’d been hoping for.

In my mind, I imagined I’d time my “sick day” for when the kids were at school/kinder so that I could sleep in ’till 10am and then go out for a brunch with my husband (who is currently studying at home).

I then planned to dig out one of my craft projects – which have been ignored for the past 2.5 years since I went back to full-time work.  And I’d end the day by picking up my kids (who would be surprised to see Mum rather than Dad waiting outside their classroom) and then welcoming them home to home-cooked cookies.

My work has an official name for days like this.  I know it’s “technically” fine to take a mental health day, but I don’t know about you – I still struggle with the idea of taking a day off when I don’t physically appear sick.

Go to work with a hacking cough or a dripping nose and people encourage you to go home and rest up.  But arrive at work crippled with anxiety, depression or stress and no-one is any the wiser.  It’s easier to hide feelings of despair, depression and hopelessness than a fever.  I worked through months of acute depression – and no-one at work noticed, until I made a point of telling them about the struggle I was having.

Not that I advocate hiding your mental illness from your employer.  I have let my manager know about my condition – and I’d like to think my employees feel comfortable enough to share with me.  Yet, I’m well aware that just telling your staff that they’re  technically allowed to take time off to deal with mental health issues doesn’t make it easy to actually do it.  We need senior staff to model that it’s actually ok.

Today, I finally got my sick day.

Only problem was, it really was a sick day.  And it struck on a Saturday morning.  Sure I got to spend the morning in bed…. but that was where I stayed for most of the weekend. And as for a leisurely lunch with my husband – well let’s just say that I wasn’t feeling up for any kind of date.  Instead of feeling free to enjoy a Monday off work… I found myself dealing with 1000’s of tissues and an aching body that didn’t want to do anything but lie down.

Moaning that “this isn’t what a sick day is meant to be like…” my husband kindly pointed out what I was after wasn’t a “sick day” but a “sickie”.  Hmm… I’d better be careful what I wish for next time.

Mariska xx

 

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What a cup of tea taught me about bitterness

I have to admit it – I love a nice hot cup of tea.  There’s something about being forced to stand quietly, waiting for the kettle to boil that seems to calm my spirit.  And don’t get me started on the lovely feeling of a warm cuppa nestled in my hands.

When I have time – and have someone to share a cuppa with – I love to get out one of my favourite loose leaf teas and use my favourite red teapot.  The English have it right – a cup of tea and a good chat can fix almost anything.

picture of red teapot and cup

My favourite red teapot – a gift from my hubby.

I was standing by the kettle just now, fixing myself a cup of tea (sadly, a cup-for-one with a teabag), when something struck me.  It doesn’t take much to turn a cup of boiling water into a cup of tea.  Within seconds of dunking a teabag, the water has been infused with the colour and flavour of the tea – turning it from clear to murky brown.

Watching my cuppa change colour just now has got me thinking.   I wonder how much the bitterness I’ve been feeling about having to live life with a mental illness has been tainting my life?

It’s not fun having a mental illness.  It’s not fun dealing with the side-effects of various medications.  And I’ll be the first to admit that somewhere, deep inside me, I still hold some bitterness about the cards life has dealt me.   Sure, I can now see a bigger purpose for my life – complete with my bipolar diagnosis – but that doesn’t mean I don’t still sometimes struggle with accepting it.

Most of my friends and family will say that it’s perfectly ok to feel bitter about being diagnosed with a mental illness. The only trouble is, it’s been almost twenty years now since my original diagnosis.  And these feelings of bitterness have a nasty habit of acting like a tea bag: infusing me and my life with anger and regret.

The effects may not always be obvious… but this bitterness got a nasty habit of bubbling to the surface when I’m feeling at my lowest and want something to strike out at.  It’s not something that I want my kids to see in me.

And so, I’m left with a choice.

Do I allow this ‘bag’ of bitterness to continue to colour my life?  Or do I make a conscious effort to finally accept my diagnosis – acknowledging that it will have an ongoing impact on my life and that I will most likely need to continue taking medication for the rest of my life to keep it under control?

It’s a difficult choice.

And yet – looking at the effect tonight that one small teabag had on my big cup full of crystal clear water, I’m determined to not let my diagnosis taint the rest of my life.  Sure it’s almost certainly always going to be part of me – but it’s not going to affect who I am – or the life I was created to live.

Mariska xx

Do you feel bitter or angry because of your mental illness or something else in your life? Have you had to take steps to deal with your bitterness? I’m sure other mums would love to hear about and learn from your experience. 

 

Don’t give up… ever

I like op-shopping.  There’s nothing like walking into an opportunity shop, with a purse filled with coins, and walking out with some amazing recycled finds.

At the moment, my favourite winter jacket, scarf and leather boots are all from op-shops and cost a total of AUS$18. The boots are a brand I really like and had never been worn, the jacket is a stunning blue wool and just looking at the gorgeous orange striped scarf makes me feel happy.

Me in my op shop jacket

Me rocking my op-shop jacket and scarf!

I’ve written before about how much I love taking something set for the rubbish dump and turning it into something beautiful and useful.  One of my favourite rescued pieces is the white buffet, sitting in my family room.

The last time I was in an op-shop, I came across a pile of old sheet music.  Something about the beautiful old music, printed in the 1920’s and carefully wrapped in brown paper,  caught my eye and I couldn’t leave without buying it.  I had no idea what I would do with it – my piano playing skills are a little too rusty for such complicated pieces – but I knew that I couldn’t leave it behind.

Today I woke up to the sound of rain.  Being Saturday, I was looking forward to spending some time with the kids – and a crafting afternoon sounded just about right.  While the kids made cards for friends, I pulled out some supplies and set about turning the sheet music into something special.

A few hours later, I had turned the unwanted music sheets into a couple of cute heart pictures (see below) and a bunch of unique cards for friends’ birthdays.

Recycled sheet music

A new use for old sheet music

Hanging the pictures on my wall, I was struck again by how something that seemed old and not good for anything but the bin, was – a couple of hours later – something so beautiful.

Sometimes life can leave us feeling so down, that we start thinking we’re no longer of value to society.  I know when I was sitting alone, locked in a psychiatric ward after the birth of my first baby, I started thinking that my life was pretty much over.  The fear and loathing in the eyes of the ward staff affirmed this thought – that I was no longer an educated, articulate young woman respected by those around me… but someone who had to be kept heavily medicated and away from the rest of society.

At that time, I pretty much felt like those sheets of music, once highly-valued but now abandoned and destined for the bin. And yet, looking at the new pictures on my wall – made from the recycled music sheets – I was reminded of my own journey.  Here I am, eight and a half years later, not only living with mental illness, but thriving.

Being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 18 was a huge blow.  And it’s something that I’ve had to learn to live with over the past 19 years.  But it hasn’t meant the end of life as I knew it.  I have still gone on to become a wife, a mother, an employee and a friend.

Like the sheet music transformed into something very different, my life may not look exactly like it used to – but it is beautiful in an equally special and valuable way.

My prayer is that everyone reading this who is going through hard times, will realise that while your life may not look quite like you had planned, it may well in the end turn out to be even better than you originally hoped.  Don’t ever think that your life is not worth living.  Don’t ever give up.

Mariska xx

Does anyone else love seeing the potential in things?  Got any stories or photos of your favourite op-shop finds?

For everything there is a season…

When most people think of Australia, they picture golden beaches, blue skies and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. But for those Aussies like me who live at the southern end of the country – life is a lot more varied than that.

In Melbourne, down the bottom of Australia, we have four distinct seasons: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. We go from 40 + degrees Celsius in Summer all the way down to crisp four degree days in Winter.  Weather tends to dominate a lot of our conversations – and most of the time we’re either complaining it’s too hot or too cold.

But would I swap our seasons for a life of constant warm days?  Probably not.

Seasons give a nice rhythm to life… with plenty of positives to outweigh the negatives.  Right now, we’re  suffering through frosty Winter mornings and icy evenings.  But I’m loving the freedom to get into my flannelette Pyjamas as soon as I get home from work.  And I’m spending my evenings learning how to knit and crotchet while curled up in front of a good movie.  There’s something about rainy days that seems to justify taking things a bit easy.

Watching my kids playing in piles of leaves with their cousin (below), I started thinking about how the seasons  are a good metaphor for my moods.

Kids jumping in leaves

Jumping in leaves with cousins…

Autumn

Autumn reminds me of anxiety and the first signs of depression.  There’s a sense that – despite the lovely weather – there’s bleak times ahead.  Like the leaves falling off the trees, there’s an impending feeling of gloom – like things are about to fall apart.  I need to force myself to look around and see the beauty that’s still there…  in the colour of the leaves, in the people who care for me.

Winter

Winter’s cold, dark, bleary days remind me of the dark pit of depression.  No matter how hard you try to wish it into being, there’s a lack of sunshine – or joy – and you crave warmth and comfort.  But like the bare branches – not dead but merely dormant – there is still life within me.  I just need to get through this season.

Spring

Coming out of a depression, is a bit like defrosting after a long Winter.  New buds appear on branches – just as tiny shoots of joy and hope start to appear in my life.  I look around and notice life again – feeling for the first time in a long time that I want to spend time enjoying my friends and family.   Happiness has crept up on me… bringing a smile to my face again and making me – like the trees around me – fruitful again.

Summer

Mania is hard to describe, but if I was to liken it to a season it would have to be the long, energetic, fun-filled days of Summer.  Just like I’m often taken by surprise with a nasty sunburn while having fun on the beach, so to mania is something that creeps up… disguised by seemingly endless energy and ideas.  And I end up needing protection and help to get through this season.

Living with mental illness, I’ve learnt that I need to be prepared for all seasons.  I wouldn’t venture out into the blazing sun without a hat – or the snow without some gloves.  So I can’t expect myself to face the ups and downs that come with bipolar without some form of protection – in my case, medication.

Coming to terms with this – and acknowledging it – frees me up to get on with living life.  There will be ups, and there will be downs, but life will move on – and each season will soon pass.

Mariska xx

Do the seasons have an impact on your mental health?  If so, what do you do about it?  Would love to hear!

 

From beach to “blah”

There’s nothing like a holiday.  For me, the anticipation starts building months in advance, really kicking into gear a few weeks before I actually depart.  During periods of stress, the planned departure date is there to daydream about – acting almost like a “finishing line” I push myself to reach.

Then there’s the holiday itself: days filled with swimming, BBQs and nature walks melting into one another, time to spend with family and friends – and (in my case)  plenty of time to read a few good books.

But holidays can’t last forever and so, last month I found myself walking back into my workplace.   After greeting my colleagues, and clearing away the clutter left from 2014, I sat staring at the computer screen.   Normally one to enjoy my work, I had to force myself to turn on the computer and start answering emails.

Days later, my apathy still hadn’t lifted. My husband assured me that experiencing post-holiday blues was quite normal, but I couldn’t help feeling like a shadow had come over me.

In the weeks that followed, my mood continued to plummet.   I couldn’t put my finger on it, but some of the joy seemed to have gone out of life.   The thought of having to summon the energy to get through another year, seemed beyond me.  Things that I could usually cope with triggered anxiety attacks.

Unspoken between my hubby and I was the thought that I might be entering another depressive episode.  Neither of us had a desire to return to that dark place.   And so we told ourselves that everything would be better after another short break – this time a week camping in a national park a couple of hours away.

Unlike our last holiday, when I had everything packed a week in advance, this time I left it to my poor hubby to get everything organised.  On the morning of our departure, I dragged myself into the car and we started our journey.

As the kilometres passed, the weight that had been hanging over me seemed to lift.  I listened to the kids’ chatter in the back seat and looked out at the road stretching before us.  I felt like I was running away from everything that had been worrying me – which was exactly what I felt like doing.

By the time we got there, I had a smile on my face again. Every time a negative thought crept into my head, I pushed it away – telling myself I would deal with it after the holiday.   I was desperately trying to recreate the “mountain top” experience of our last holiday.

And it worked.  At least until I returned home and real life started up again.

As the weeks passed – and my anxiety kept building – I had to admit that I need more than just another holiday to alleviate my low mood.  As a mum I can’t afford to not get help when I need it.

And so I went to see my psychiatrist – and walked away clutching a new prescription to help even things out. Now, I’m waiting for them to kick in.

The me I see in the mirror today is a far cry from the carefree me from a few months ago.  But I guess that, having Bipolar Disorder, these tough times are part of the package.  Along with the “mountain top” experiences, there’s going to be valleys of despair.

But when I’m struggling to follow others’ advice and “look on the bright side”, one thing I can do is look back at times like family holidays and realise that life does get better.  And there’s plenty to look forward to.

Mariska xx

PS.  Is anyone else struggling with anxiety or depression at the moment?  What do you do to help cope during down times?  I’m sure all us mums would love to hear your advice.

What Lindy Chamberlain taught me about bitterness

Getting out of bed at 5.30am to attend a breakfast one hour’s drive away in the City isn’t my idea of a great morning.  I’m not a morning person at the best of times.  But yesterday I did just that and was rewarded with a morning I’ll never forget.

I’ll be the first to admit that – at times – I have struggled with bitterness.  For a while there, after my diagnosis and again after I spent time in a psychiatric hospital after the birth of my first baby, I felt let down by my own body and angry at my ill-treatment at the hands of medical staff.

Which is why I found the speaker for this year’s Melbourne Prayer Breakfast, Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton, so gripping.

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If anyone has a reason to be bitter, it’s Lindy Chamberlain (as she’s commonly known).  Accused and convicted of murdering her nine-week-old baby daughter Azaria (pictured above with her) while camping at Uluru – then known as Ayers Rock – in 1980, Lindy maintained that she saw a dingo leave the tent where Azaria was sleeping.

After serving three years in prison with hard labour, Lindy’s conviction was overturned after the discovery of new evidence, and she was acquitted of all charges.

Standing up on the stage, in front of 1000 people, Lindy looked more like someone’s friendly mother-in-law than someone who had been to hell and back.  She started her speech by saying that she wasn’t going to talk about Azaria – or the dingo: “What happened to me is not as important as what I learned from what happened to me,” she explained.

Sitting there, listening to this woman talk about being forced to clean toilet blocks with a toothbrush, and being hated by her fellow prisoners, I couldn’t help but feel anything but deep empathy for her.  Prison didn’t sound to dissimilar from the high-dependency unit of a public psychiatric ward.

And yet, Lindy’s message was one of hope.

She challenged me (and I’m guessing everyone else in the room) to not let tragedy, or illness, or circumstances in life prevent us from living life to our full potential.

“It’s not what happens to us that matters, it’s what we choose to do with it that matters,” she said – her voice cracking as she wiped away tears. While she could have become bitter and turned her back on her religion, Lindy said that she has learnt through this all that “God is not the author of hardship and pain but will guide us through it.”

I walked away from that breakfast feeling inspired. If Lindy Chamberlain can go through what she did and not be a bitter woman, then I’m going to try and follow in her footsteps.

Yes, I have bipolar disorder.  Yes, that makes life more difficult than if I didn’t have it.  But what I have learned through this illness is valuable – both to me and to others.  Those of us who have endured hardship and suffering can be “wounded healers” – sharing our own journey with others – to encourage them in their own struggles.

If we allow bitterness consume us, to corrode our self-confidence and steal our joy – then we lose the opportunity to turn a bad situation into something good.

Have you found that your experience of mental illness has enabled you to reach out to others in similar circumstances?  Has helping others helped you?  Would love to hear your comments below.

 

 

Brains or beauty: why should I have to choose?

This morning, getting ready to have my morning shower, I averted my eyes from the scales – and my reflection in the mirror.  A few days earlier, I had been shocked to see the numbers on the scale had gone up… again.

After having lost a stack of weight in the past couple of years, I’ve been struggling to stop the kilos piling back on since having to increase my medications after an episode of depression last year.

Not only that, but one of the medication, Epilim, is having another awful side-effect – causing my hair to fall out… not a great feeling for a woman.  Every time I run my hands through my hair, precious strands float away.

Like many people who have been on anti-psychotic or mood-stabilizing medications before, I know that weight gain is a well-documented side effect.  But the hair thing came as a nasty surprise.

Asking my psychiatrist about it at our next appointment, she talked me through my (very few) alternative options.  One of the drugs she suggested came with no risk of weight gain or hair loss.  “Great!” I thought.  Until she mentioned that if I noticed a rash appearing while I was taking it, I needed to get straight to a Doctor – as  it could be fatal.

Unwilling to take the risk of dying – no matter how small the odds – I’ve decided to stay on the same medications for now.  After all, they are keeping me well and after experiencing my first bout of depression, I have no desire to go back there.  I’ll just up the exercise and start eating a little healthier (which isn’t a bad thing I guess!).

Still, as a woman, I must admit that it annoys me that I have to (literally) make the decision between my brain and my beauty.

Having noticed friends facing similar weight-gain issues, I’m betting that the pharmaceutical company that manages to create a mood-stabilizing or anti-psychotic drug without this self-esteem blowing side-effect will have many satisfied customers.

What are your expriences with medication and side-effects?  What steps have you taken to counter them?  We’d love to hear from you!

When you can’t say it with words

Tonight, browsing the internet, I came across a wonderful blog, with incredible images drawn by someone with bipolar disorder.

Somehow, with a simple image or two and very few words, the blog’s author managed to conjure up some of the emotions that many of us go through.

And so, in the spirit of her blog – I’m going to say no more and simply show you some of her pictures.  If you’d like to see more, I’d encourage you to take the time to visit her blog.

Thank you to http://bipolarcodex.wordpress.com/ for sharing these photos with us.

Be a barnacle, not a hermit crab

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A few months ago, my first episode of depression hit me out of the blue.  Having just swapped roles with my husband to take on my dream job at World Vision, I suddenly found myself under a dark cloud.

Sitting at my desk at work, I would be overcome with anxiety – wondering how I would get through the next hour, let alone the years of work ahead of me.

Being a new employee and the sole income earner for our young family, I put on a brave face in front of my colleagues.  But each night,  I spent hours despairing; from my anxiety that I wasn’t good enough for my new job, to my fear that I would lose my job.

As the weeks passed, I withdrew into my shell, losing my happy, extroverted nature and turning down invitations to catch up with friends or family members.  Even my Facebook posts stopped.  How do you announce on social media that you feel like you’re falling apart?

One particularly bad night, driving home from work, I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks.  I pulled into the carpark of our local supermarket and hysterically sobbed to God: “Help me!  I don’t know what to do and I need you to help me.”

And He did.

The next night my husband and I were wondering through a shopping centre and we bumped into old, dear friends – who we hadn’t seen for many months.  When they invited us to have dinner with them, I found myself agreeing.

While the guys chatted, I poured out my heart to my friend – who kindly pointed out that it sounded like I had depression and should see my psychiatrist immediately.  The next day, she rang to make sure I had made an appointment.

This encounter gave me the strength to be honest with people.  Later that week, in church, an older woman asked me “How are you?” I answered with a candid, “Not well.  Will you pray for me?”

She did, and so did a handful of my other friends who I confided in.  They continued to text me to check how I was going, and also provided encouragement for my husband.

Some of the bible verses they sent via sms like: ‘cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you,” (1 Peter 5 verse 7) were responsible for keeping me going some days.

Tough times and depression stir the hermit crab within us. We want to hide out, run away and avoid human contact. In reality, we need community more than ever.

Cancel your escape to the Himalayas. Forget dreams of a deserted island. Instead, through the storms of life be a barnacle – and cling to the rock that is your God, friends, family or other support networks.