The place from where my words usually come is wrapped in wet cotton wool. I am in hospital.
For years now my prodromal signs of loss of concentration and short term memory – which can be precursors to either a manic/psychotic episode or a depressive episode – have always landed on the manic/psychotic side.
This time the signs were the same. My psychiatrist and I gambled, counted on the past history of manic psychotic, adjusted medication accordingly.
Only it went the other way. I flattened, unhelpful phrases trudged like a battalion of soldiers through my soggy brain: …better off without you…. Everyone.
There is no need for alarmed raising of eyebrows. This is not my first go on this merry-go-round.
Those derogatory words and phrases are completely alien to me. I can see them for what they are. Just a clinical sign. Nothing more, nothing less. They don’t prompt me to hatch self destructive plans. They prompt me towards my psychiatrist, and towards hospital, because the world feels like sandpaper on my soft brain. The hospital won’t fix it quick, but it will bandage the raw areas while they heal.
At this level I find depressive symptoms are easier to manage, easier to live with than manic symptoms…unless of course I plummet to the complete paralysis of catatonic depression…and then it’s just as horrid, possibly worse.
I may expand on this comparison of symptoms in the future. For now there is no concentration, and motivation feels like riding a slug to catch up with a leopard made of quicksilver. There is literally no point.
I do own a new hospital mug. The design is fresh, green, paisley, floral… It is sprightly. It’s the small things that make it less bad.
In one week my immediate family and I are leaving for a holiday on Heron Island. That was a difficult sentence to commit to. Not the sentence, just one word.
The certainty inherent in those three letters. Articulating it feels like I am going to jinx it, like I will alter the course of history, even though I know that’s impossible.
This is our third attempt at this holiday. The first was over Easter 2021. I almost needn’t follow that up with any explanation. To use a recently much reworked cliché -everyone was in the same boat…or in our case not in the boat bound for our holiday destination.
It was a time of global holiday cancellations. We were all still invigorated by the adrenaline of the early days of a pandemic many believed could be conquered and left behind.
We rebooked our holiday for Easter this year. But in a twist of acutely painful timing our city was locked down. Ironically only for 3 days. But they were the exact 3 days we were meant to travel to Heron Island.
By the time that little lockdown ended, everyone else was off to enjoy their Easter camping trips. We were left feeling slapped, as though we had been singled out by the universe to miss out on our holiday.
But we rebooked again. For next week. Knowing it might not eventuate this time either.
And about three weeks ago doom crept into the family. We began to censor ourselves and each other. Snapping ‘If it happens!’ if anyone dared mention anything to do with the holiday. We shot each other down with sarcasm and repressed feelings as though expressing any plans, hope or joy associated with this holiday would save us the disappointment if it had to be cancelled again.
So, just under three weeks ago our family decided – that instead of clenching everything, and white knuckling it through this will-we-wont-we time, we would allow ourselves to feel the joyful anticipation of this holiday.
We began to talk about what snacks we’d take on the car trip. What we were looking forward to most. We wondered if we would see clown fish. We started making packing lists.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not about mindlessly Pollyanna-ing the reality we live in. All four of us are abundantly aware that things can look like they are going ahead one day only to have them snatched away in a minute.
While it is true that right now we have no control over whether our holidays or special events will be cancelled at the last minute – it is also true that we never did, we just weren’t as acutely aware of it.
But we can choose how we feel in the lead up to planned events. We can choose to anticipate disappointment or anticipate joy. Whether it ends up being disappointment or joy is almost irrelevant because it isn’t about the eventual outcome. It is about how we feel right now.
We can choose to scrunch ourselves into a ball of anxious negativity. But for what? Being able to say ‘See I told you it would be cancelled’ if it is cancelled? Like a sort of sick Schadenfreude directed at ourselves.
Or we can choose a more relaxed, positive attitude that coexists with the knowledge that it may be cancelled, but that the anticipation is pleasant. If the holiday goes ahead we will have had a much nicer lead up to it, than having to spend the first few days unclenching from the negativity.
If it doesn’t happen, we’ll be disappointed, but we won’t have wrecked the preceding few weeks with dread.
Choosing to have low expectations in an attempt to avoid disappointment is not only flawed, but in these times of immense uncertainty it doesn’t serve us well. It robs us of joy. The brave thing to do is hope in the face of uncertainty regardless of whether that hope ever grows into reality.
That said, I have two disclaimers for the hope approach.
The first is that the ability to conjure hope relies on reasonable mental health. Someone experiencing symptoms of mental illness, especially those featuring depression or anxiety will no more be able to think themselves into hope than a diabetic can think their blood glucose levels into the correct range. They will need the right treatment for them before hope can become a choice again.
The second is that if you are attempting this with children, they need to be old enough/emotionally mature enough to understand that the hope does not guarantee the holiday.
For today, everyone in my family is well enough to hope that by mid next week we will get to see those clown fish and soak in the endless blues of the sky and the ocean surrounding our tiny Island destination.
I am curious about where you are coming from. And it’s good to have a curious mind, isn’t it? So, I wanted to ask you some questions.
You know how you won’t take advice about Covid prevention from the doctors who believe in Covid (ie the majority of doctors)?
Are you aware that these are the same doctors you get your general medical advice from?
Here’s a specific scenario:
Let’s say one of your children came off their bike and… actually that raises another question – do your children wear bike helmets? I don’t want to make assumptions here, because in the same way you ‘have an immune system’ to protect you against Covid, I’m sure you are aware your children ‘have a cranium (skull bone)’ to protect them from head injury?
Do you view a bike helmet as an artificial and unnecessary device when the body has a perfectly good natural bony protection against brain injuries? Or am I drawing unreasonable conclusions about your beliefs here?
My apologies – I digress. It’s that curious mind of mine.
Let’s just say your child comes off their bike, knocks their head (helmeted or not), passes out, wakes up, and vomits. What do you do?
In that situation I would take my kid to the emergency department of the nearest hospital, but maybe you wouldn’t? From what I know about you so far, you and I make very different medical decisions.
But for the purpose of this piece of writing I will assume you do go to your nearest hospital’s emergency department. And if this is the case, my question to you is this:
Do you realise that most (if not all) of the doctors you encounter in the hospital believe we are in the middle of a global Covid pandemic and will advise that a combination of masks, widespread testing, selective quarantine, and vaccines are helpful measures to manage it?
And if you are aware of this, and you don’t trust their expertise when it comes to advice about Covid, how do you trust those same doctors to treat your child’s head injury?
How do you cherry pick which parts of your doctor’s expertise to trust?
If you take your child to hospital, do you jump onto Google before you leave and consult the same sources you do for your Covid information about the best way to treat a potential concussion in a child?
Or would you delay the care of your child’s head injury until you found a doctor who also believed masks are unnecessary and that Covid vaccines are part of a giant human experiment?
I mean, any doctor will treat your child. They have sworn an oath to treat everyone – neo-Nazis, child molesters, murderers – sorry, not equating you or your child with any of these demographics – just making the point that the doctor you see will treat your head injured child (even if they fundamentally disagree with your stance on ‘your freedoms’).
If you are reading this in Australia, you live in a first world country. If you have access to social media – and especially if you occupy an influencer space – there is a good chance you have enough to eat, a roof over your head, and access to first world medical care – including a hospital emergency department if your kid sustains a head injury.
You have an abundance of freedom.
If where you get your information from tells you not to be vaccinated – it may be inaccurate – but you do have the freedom to take that advice.
But when it comes to your refusal to follow other public health directives (masks, testing, etc), this is not about your freedom. This is about your unwillingness to accept any inconvenience. This is about you putting yourself first 100% of the time. It is you putting your convenience and comfort above the health and lives of everyone else, especially the many vulnerable people you share this country with.
So to my last question:
If you accuse the medical and scientific communities’ advice of curtailing your freedom when it inconveniences you, but then choose to rely on the mainstream health system when you have a medical emergency – Is that not the definition of hypocrisy?
(A letter from the mother I am today to the mother I was about to become)
Hello Anita in 2006,
I am writing to you from fifteen years in the future. You are about to have your first baby. You earnestly believe you have to know it all now.
You don’t and you can’t.
You have imagined who the person you are about to meet will be. But a newborn is full of secrets. It takes time to get to know your child.
I am making cinnamon scrolls and listening to Mozart at dawn on your baby’s fifteenth birthday. I remember her at just a few days old. I looked into the unfathomable darkness of her gaze and felt as though I was being interviewed for a job I had no qualifications for.
What have I learnt since then?
For everything you get ‘right’ parenting wise, you get something else ‘wrong’. Can I make a suggestion? Let go now of the idea of right and wrong. It barely exists. As long as you are not wilfully abusive towards your child, the rest are just lucky bullseyes and unfortunate missteps from which you learn. The things you think are important now will be things you won’t care about in the future.
For example – your baby will be born by caesarean and be breastfed for seven days. You don’t need to know why right now. But I can reassure you that fifteen years on, how she was born and how she was fed as a baby are irrelevant.
I know this information shocks you, because you are welded to the sticky stories you were fed at prenatal yoga and hospital classes. It’s not your fault that you believe this stuff. You don’t know better.
Always remember that even (perhaps especially) in times when you are completely baffled about what to do next, you know your child better than any expert. I remember when your baby moved into toddler age, she would have epic tantrums, that went forever.
I read a parenting book, which advised the best thing to do was to firmly hug your tantruming toddler. The pressure of the hug was meant to calm their nervous system. I tried this with our little girl. It escalated her further, and the tantrums would then take double the time to resolve.
I can smile about it now, because after years of learning who she is, I know that when she gets upset, one of the first things she needs is space. The hugs are helpful later.
Don’t believe the cliches cloaking motherhood. You don’t need to martyr yourself to be a good mother. Unfortunately, you will learn that in challenging circumstances. But you will learn it and be a happier and better mother for it.
Then there are generalisations. For years beforehand I was fearful of ‘the teenage years’ because we are fed horror stories. I don’t assume her remaining teenagerhood will be devoid of challenging times. But so far, I think – give me a teenager over a baby anytime. We can communicate. She can share her sense of humour with me. I know the things she cares about, and what she doesn’t.
I love the physical independence of a teenager. She sleeps through the night, goes to the toilet on her own, can make herself food, can catch a bus, and arrange her own catch ups with her friends.
No one ever tells you that (if you have lived with your child since their birth) you won’t just be dropped into parenting a teenager. By the age of fifteen you will have had fifteen years of getting to know what works for them and what doesn’t.
Lastly please remember – motherhood doesn’t happen in a vacuum for anyone. We are fed images and text and given lectures on the ideal way to parent. But often these are presented in a vacuum – as though nothing else aside from mothering were happening in your life.
As though when you are mothering you are somehow immune to life.
Immune to relationship break ups, job losses, bereavement and grief, homelessness, pandemics, diagnoses you never could have predicted, and all that can go astray in a life.
And while these things may temporarily compromise the ‘quality’ of your parenting, they are also what can make you a better parent in the longer term. They are the things that can teach your children that life is not perfect, and most importantly that their mother is not perfect.
Children don’t need a perfect mother. They need a mother who is genuine. Who tries her best. Who is able to admit when she has stuffed up. Who is vulnerable. Who, rather than sweeping away all the challenges in her children’s’ path, can sit with her child and agree that some things are just shit. And who after sitting with the difficulty can point to something that is good. Whether that’s a stack of banana pancakes, or the child themselves.
Welcome to motherhood!
Anita in 2021
The beginning of motherhood also heralded the beginning of Bipolar 1 Disorder for me, starting with postnatal psychosis on day 7. To read more about this, you might like to check out a sample of my memoir here Book
Imagine being recommended a medication that you were told could lower your risk of dying. But to be fully informed before taking it, you were first required to spend 24 hours in a room wallpapered with all the potential risks and side effects of taking that medication printed in large, bold font.
The words all over that wallpaper are:
Dizziness, nausea, weight gain, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, vomiting, back pain, migraines, suicidality, paraesthesia, restless leg syndrome, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, eczema, itchiness, hives, agitation, irritability, nightmares, confusion, muscle pain, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, and/or throat that may cause difficulty in breathing or swallowing, impaired concentration, poor memory, hair loss, decreased thyroid function, hepatitis, liver failure, hallucinations, slurred speech, kidney failure, trouble walking, tremors, seizures, coma, death
After 24 hours you are let out of the room and presented with the medication. Would you take it?
I’ve had some experience assessing health related risk versus benefit. Professionally I’ve done it with every animal I have recommended a treatment or diagnostic test for, from the simple (routine vaccinations) to the complex (invasive surgery in a patient who is already unwell).
But perhaps my personal experience of taking psychiatric medications on and off for the last 15 years is more relevant. The above list is just a sample of the potential side effects of some of my medications. If I printed them all out, and then wall papered my house with them, I could easily torture myself into not taking any of them.
This is the wallpaper effect.
I don’t disregard any of the words on that list. I know someone who almost died as a direct result of taking one of the medications I take. I have recently been diagnosed with decreased thyroid function, very likely as a direct result of taking one of my medications, There have been other medications I have tried and had to discontinue because of side effects.
And to put the risks I am working with into perspective: Common side effects for many of these medications are considered able to affect up to 1 in 10 people, uncommon side effects may affect up to 1 in 100 people, and rare side effects – so the more serious ones in the above list – may affect up to 1 in 1000 people.
As risks go, they are not exactly tiny.
And yet I opt to religiously take these potentially life-threatening medications. Why? Because the risk of side effects (in me, at the moment) is less than the risk of my Bipolar 1 Disorder symptoms being poorly controlled.
I have a higher risk of both a poor quality of life and death from my Bipolar 1 Disorder if it is unmedicated than I do from my current medication regime. My risk of death if I do nothing to manage this illness sits between 15%-20% (including not only suicide but non intentional causes of death due to manic or psychotic symptoms, which can include increased risk taking, hypersexuality, poor judgement and delusional thinking).
Thanks to modern medicine, humans in first world countries are confronted with death less often. It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that death can be avoided if we ‘do our research’ and make the right choices.
Speaking of ‘research’: True research is not a google search. Neither is it being spoon-fed unsubstantiated claims on social media by someone who couldn’t make their way through one research paper if they tried, let alone the hundreds it would take to qualify what they were doing as actual research. Research is something academics, including scientists and some medical doctors, are trained to do. It is rigorous, unbiased, and a skill that takes years to learn.
I believe the choices most of us make about our health have less to do with ‘research’ and more to do with the biases our environment soaks us in.
If you see mobile morgues or dead bodies outside your window, you are more likely to want the vaccination that reduces the chances of you dying from what killed the people outside your window, even if the vaccine carries a very small risk of death.
If you don’t know anyone who has died from that same illness, but you are marinated in the announcement of a potentially fatal side effect of the vaccine every time you look at a screen, you are likely to be more reluctant to be vaccinated than someone in the first group.
The scientific risk of death due to side effect is identical in both populations but the human response is different according to which narrative is shoved into our malleable brains. The capacity to weigh true risk against benefit flies away.
And that is why I choose not to live in a house wallpapered with my medication side effects.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself being shouted at by another parent.
Someone semi well known, a parent to several children. This person has their fingers in a few pies, some might be called parenting advice adjacent, but to my knowledge they lack formal qualifications.
They delivered their passionate message via Facebook couched as a public service to ALL parents. I am wary of all unsolicited parenting advice. My aversion to it stems from my first pregnancy and early first-time motherhood.
Back then I eagerly soaked up all the information, like a stray kitten lapping up a saucer of milk. The need to have a vaginal birth. How essential breastfeeding would be for my baby.
I made myself sick on information.
In fact, had I stubbornly clung to it, that information could have killed both my baby and I. (A baby in the posterior position, postnatal psychosis brought on (in part) by sleep deprivation, a lot of medication to treat the postnatal psychosis that passed into breastmilk).
But back to the Facebook tirade I found difficult to look away from.
The message was completely overshadowed by the breathless anxiety in its delivery. I’ve never been a proponent of parenting out of the fear of what could happen based on general information. The topic of this particular rant is almost irrelevant because it could have been about anything. It happened to be about Tick Toc. More specifically a call to ban it from our children’s devices.
Personally, I would not give my primary school student access to any social media. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Personally, I believe banning Tick Toc from high school students’ phones rather than letting them have it and teaching them about the dangers, is a bit like banning sex instead of providing good quality sex education. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Reflexively banning anything because you’ve come across some frightening information about it will just make it more appealing to many teenagers. Like the kid who has never been allowed sugar… But stop I am straying from the point I am trying to make, which come to think of it can still be made with the kid who has never been allowed sugar.
Take two kids with the same parent and apply the No Sugar rule.
It might work perfectly for one kid who is pretty compliant, naturally eats a wide variety of foods, and happens to love taking vegetable muffins for lunches. They grow into an adult who carries their childhood eating habits into adulthood and live happily ever after.
The other kid might be more rebellious. They might gorge on sugar at every birthday party they go to and resent their parents’ strict (though well intentioned) food rules. They trade their vegetable muffins for chocolate bars at school lunches. They feel guilt and shame associated with eating sugar and grow into adulthood with disordered eating that takes years of intensive therapy to manage.
Whether it is sugar or social media – I no longer make blind decisions based only on external information (be it expert or the anecdotal variety hurled at me by social media). I aim to interpret parenting information in the context of my child(ren) and my family before I lay down any laws.
Favouring my intuition over information isn’t easy. In other areas of my life – such as my veterinary work and the management of my Bipolar 1 Disorder, I have always relied heavily on information to help me make decisions.
But I can’t count the number of times information (even expert information) has failed me as a parent.
In this age we are assaulted by information wherever we look. It can overwhelm and make us doubt our knowledge of our children. And if we let it, the information and opinion overload becomes a stick to beat ourselves to an indecisive mess with.
It has taken me years and plenty of mistakes to marry my intuition and knowledge of my children with a scant amount of trustworthy information to find the formula that works (not all but) a lot of the time, for this family.
I am not against parents sharing information and opinions. I share my own frequently. This post is a case in point. But I find it helpful to remember that ultimately we need little information to parent well, and it is information most parents agree on anyway:
Love your children unconditionally; provide them with food, water, shelter, the opportunity to exercise, and the best medical care you can access; don’t expose them to any forms of abuse; teach them how to navigate the world they inhabit; and if you are fortunate enough to be able to – provide them with an education.
Beyond that, you can ignore what everyone else is doing. It’s down to what works for you and your child.
If you enjoy my writing, my recently published memoir Abductions From My Beautiful Life is available on most online bookselling platforms including Amazon, Fishpond, and Booktopia. You can find an excerpt here: Book
Naomi Osaka’s decision to step back from her job for reasons of mental ill health has stirred up a lot of debate in the last week. And yes, it’s great that she is being open about her mental ill health being the reason for this decision.
But Naomi Osaka is not representative of most people who experience mental ill health during their working life. The main reason is that (financially) Naomi can afford to take enough time off to recover.
I don’t point this out to minimise her suffering. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. It will make you feel equally shit whether you are wealthy or not. But the luxury of time off for an employee to recover fully from an episode of mental illness is not one many workplaces will or even can accommodate.
This week several experts have stated that it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees living with a mental illness, that these employees have a right to time off and to have their work modified to accommodate that mental illness.
I have mixed feelings about this. I feel exasperated, bemused, and tired. Because these earnest, well intentioned experts have no idea how mental illness and work mix in the real world.
The first time I experienced mental illness (postnatal psychosis followed by rebound depression) I was hospitalised for close to four months. ‘Luckily’ for my employer I was on maternity leave, so absolutely no thought had to be put into managing my absence, because it had already been planned for.
After I recovered, I continued to work as a small animal vet for another 12 years before taking a break to have my book published. In those 12 years I experienced a severe Bipolar 1 episode on average every 2-3 years. When I say severe, I mean requiring hospitalisation for weeks or months on end followed by a gradual re-integration to life outside the hospital.
Here are the two deal breakers my illness presents to most work places:
Firstly, for me, the onset of episodes of illness is sudden – ie between 24-48 hours. There is no time to plan or find someone to fill in.
Secondly, when I’ve had to phone work to say I would not be in for my next shift, I’d have to follow that with ‘I have no idea how long I will need off’.
Again – luckily for my employers – in those 12 years I was a casual employee. This meant I was effectively fired each time I got sick.
The practice I worked for was not doing anything illegal, and from a practical and financial point of view they could not have indefinitely held a position open for me. Each time I eventually recovered, and because there is almost never a shortage of work for vets – new hours were found for me. But me being able to slot back into the same workplace each time was due to the nature of the industry, not due to any laws to protect my position and income.
I am privileged, and thankfully my husband could support our family without my wage when I got sick. But my survival and roof over my head have had absolutely nothing to do with my workplaces being able to accommodate my mental illness.
Just because it isn’t legal to fire people or make their life hell because they live with mental illness doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. I know plenty of people who live with this reality.
This injustice occurs because of a gargantuan power imbalance between an employee who lives with a mental illness and their employer. Whether employers are aware of it or not: They hold all the power. Here’s why:
Stigma still prevents many people from disclosing they live with a mental illness to their employer – especially when they are asymptomatic. Once that person becomes symptomatic, they are likely to struggle just to get through each day or hour. Symptoms such as poor concentration and memory, distorted thinking, irritability, a sense of hopelessness, panic attacks, and non-existent self-esteem, (to list just a few) make it incredibly difficult if not impossible to not only schedule a meeting with their boss or with HR, but then present at that meeting as a fully functioning human being.
And if they do, and their boss discriminates against them they often don’t have the mental resilience and the finances for a legal battle to bring their discriminating employer to justice.
These employees will often just go quietly –because that is all they have the energy for. Then their employer gets to shrug their shoulders and say: ‘Well it was the employee’s choice to leave!’
I am grateful to Naomi Osaka for cracking open the conversation about mental ill health at work a little wider. If it causes even one employer to stop and consider that the playing field between them and an employee who lives with mental illness isn’t even, it will be a good thing.
But there is still a long way to go before people who disclose their mental illness at work can expect to be treated the same as anyone who discloses a physical illness.
A dull ache sits in my centre. My cat Lucy, immortalised next to my old red keyboard on my Thought Food home page, is gone.
2 days ago the vet in me woke to a 16 year old depressed, immobile, incontinent feline patient. I needed more information before communicating with the cat’s owner, who was also me. The owner could read the vet’s face though and it made her feel as though a cactus was growing in her chest.
The vet came back with information later in the day.
Hypothermia, likely anaemia hiding under haemoconcentration, severe azotemia in the face of likely hyposthenuria, severe hyperglycaemia, and elevated ALT
At that point the owner and the vet in me began to overlap, like a Venn diagram, and both parts of me knew enough to know this:
None of these big words gave us a definitive diagnosis. To get to the big word that was causing the multi organ system problems indicated by a physical exam and first round of blood tests, we’d need to enter a new level of the diagnostics game. And with each new diagnostic test we’d opt for we’d open up the possibility of needing still more tests to get to the bottom of it.
What justifies further diagnostics in veterinary medicine?
The chance that the definitive diagnosis is something treatable or manageable to the point of returning the patient to a good quality of life.
When I started work as a small animal vet in 1998 we had fewer diagnostic and treatment options available for pets. It is good to have more options now. There are absolutely cases where we can return animals to a great quality of life where they would have been euthanased when I first graduated.
But this advanced knowledge also complicates matters, particularly when it comes to caring for our geriatric pets.
People often assume that the hardest part of being a vet is euthanasing animals. Yes, it can be devastating. But I have always found it equally as hard, if not harder, to hand hold people through the process of coming to terms with the fact that it is time to euthanase, while their pet is put through diagnostics and treatments that may prolong life but do nothing for quality of life.
An internal medicine specialist may well have wanted to know exactly what the cause of my cat’s abnormal blood results were before giving me their blessing to euthanase.
And, with those blood test results, had my cat been 2 instead of 16, I still would have stopped to consider that euthanasia could be the end point. But I would have gone ahead with more diagnostics because the chances of them leading to an outcome with a good quality of life for my cat would have been higher.
But I also knew that had I insisted on a definitive diagnosis 2 days ago, Lucy could have spent her last days scared, in a fluorescently lit hospital having rectal temperatures, blood and urine samples taken at regular intervals with no knowledge of why it was happening. Had she been able to come home it would have been heavily medicated, and still not feeling 100%.
When I weighed this with the tiny chance that she was suffering something treatable with a chance of return to good health – the risk of putting her through fear and pain for nothing at the age of 16 was not one I was willing to take.
Instead we made the hard choice.
Instead all four of her people cuddled her. We whispered in her little round ears and wet her fur with our tears. And I stroked her velvet neck as she drifted off into anaesthesia and then away into death.
Later that night I laid down next to Lucy’s siter, Lily and burst into deep sobs. These cats entered my life before the mental illness that came with my human children. With Lucy I have lost another part of me that existed before everything changed irreversibly…and not all for the better. The waves of grief beach unexpected thoughts and feelings.
When I work, I am not brutally honest with a vulnerable client if they ask me ‘What would you do in this situation?’ I stick to the facts, lay out probabilities as best I can and make sure euthanasia is part of the conversation so that they can make their own informed decision, in as much as their own time as their pet’s welfare allows.
But if the vet in me had been advising the cat owner in me for Lucy, I would not have held back. I would have said:
‘We can do every diagnostic test under the sun and you will probably get an answer, but we are doing it for you, not for your pet.’
Just because we can do something, doesn’t always mean we should.
You can find some of my other veterinary content in these posts:
For the last 14 years this emotion and I have had a complicated relationship. Before that, I experienced its giddy joy like anyone else.
It greeted me on the first days of longed-for holidays.
I experienced it on planes during take-off. In that moment of palpable lift, when the wheels left the ground and I shed gravity for a while.
It swooped through my body when I’d meet my childhood best friend, Sandra, at airports and train stations in different countries after years of separation.
Many moments of elation were tied to achievement. School grades, University degrees, getting jobs, have all elicited it. A psychologist would grimace at that, but there you have it.
But when I was nearly 33 something happened that warped elation for me.
I gave birth to my first baby.
The birth of a baby is usually viewed as the ultimate source of elation. Much is made of the overjoy of brand-new mothers.
But I was brewing something sinister when I went into my 33 hour labour on 2 hours sleep. That sleep deprivation, and the massive shift in hormones after the birth became the key that fitted the genetic lock for my dormant Bipolar 1 Disorder. It introduced itself violently, as an episode of postnatal psychosis when my baby was seven days old.
Three and a half years later I did get a day of pure elation after the carefully managed birth of my second baby. But I took none of it for granted, as though I had an inkling the psychosis would be back at the six week mark.
Psychosis in Bipolar Disorder is often preceded by mania. For some people mania is preceded by hypomania, which is like an artificial sweetener to the sugar of real elation. Same same, but different.
I do experience hypomania, but it is transient. Blink and you’ll miss it before it progresses to the high speed car chase of mania. I don’t spend weeks feeling fantastic about everything. But I’ve lived through enough hypomania to make me wary of true elation.
I force my elation through an airport security like checkpoint before I allow myself to feel it, because I know it could be the hypomanic second that precedes a manic episode.
So when elation wings its way into my heart, I put it through my metal detector of questions: How are you sleeping? Any racing thoughts? How’s your memory and concentration? Any sense of urgency, a pressure in the part of your brain right behind your eyes?
But right now I am truly elated.
Even my psychiatrist agreed I am entitled to it, after I handed him my third baby a couple of days ago.
My third baby is of the paper variety. Its newborn smell is that of fresh new books. Its gestation period has been longer than a human’s, longer than an elephant’s. 14 years from first words to published.
This baby’s name is ‘Abductions From My Beautiful Life’, nicknamed ‘Abductions’, and it is my memoir.
You will find my DNA all through it. My many selves. The child, teenager, university student, veterinarian, mother, psychiatric inpatient and outpatient, writer, mental health advocate, partner, and friend.
I wrote this book because there are not enough first-person accounts of severe mental illness, especially those featuring psychosis. I wanted to dissolve some of the misconceptions about people who live with severe mental illness, and the stigma that accompanies them.
The road to get this book published has been long, rough, expensive, paved with barely-existent patience, blood, sweat, many tears, diplomacy, and a lot of rejection.
It seems– books that deal frankly with mental illness (other than depression and anxiety) are too prickly for many publishers to touch – or to quote the feedback my agent and I got time and time again:
‘It is beautifully written, and an important story, but it is not commercial enough’ ie it will not make us any money, so we won’t go near it.
After several years of rejections, I did finally find a way to have it published, via a contributory contract with a publishing house in London that I supplemented with my own freelance cover designer and freelance copyeditor, to ensure it was published to a professional standard.
To the countless Australian publishers who passed on this book because ‘although beautifully written, it was not commercial enough’ – I say:
This book was never intended to be the next Harry Potter, or 50 Shades of Grey. But having finally published it I am elated because I have given the people who might be interested, the opportunity to read this allegedly ‘well written important story’.
An opportunity they may never have had if I had given up on it. So if you are one of those interested readers, you now get to decide whether or not you like it, rather than having an anonymous wall of publishers tell you what you should or shouldn’t be reading.
All reviews, feedback, and comments are welcome. For now you can leave them in the Comments section of this post, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And if you do enjoy Abductions or find it meaningful and you can think of someone else it might resonate with, recommend it to them or maybe even gift them a copy.
Publication, purchasing, and launching information:
Abductions From My Beautiful Life will be published on Friday 30.4.2021
You can preorder it now and continue to order it once it is published from:
To begin with I am planning several smaller private launches over the next few weeks and months rather than one big one. They will probably take place at my house to work as flexibly as possible with ever changing Covid restrictions. But the format will be similar to a traditional launch with drinks, discussion of the book, maybe a reading, and books for sale and for signing, or if you’ve pre-bought your book you can bring it along to be signed.
If you live in or are passing through Brisbane and would be interested in coming along to one of these smaller launches, please email (anitalink73@gmailcom) or Instagram DM me @anitalinkthoughtfood so that I am aware of your interest when I send out invitations.
I will post further information about launches as they evolve.
For more on how ‘Abductions’ came into being you might like to check out:
The frantic newness of the pandemic has worn off, although the announcement of a lockdown still triggers an anxiety that (for some people) expresses itself in toilet paper hunger.
As we move into the second year of life with Covid I feel as though I am part of sick game of involuntary musical statues. During intervals of relative local stability we all dance to the music of few restrictions. But there is a sinister undertone – our movement can be stilled instantly when the Covid puppet master stops that music and we are all turned to stone for a while.
When Covid cancelled our family trip to Heron Island this time last year it was disappointing, but I countered it with perspective, a stiff upper lip. After all what was a lost holiday in the big scheme of things? So many people were worse off.
So, we rebooked the Heron Island trip for this year. We’d been due to leave on March 30. The anticipation of it had built joyously for the whole family. I was particularly looking forward to it. Our last family holiday in December was marred by the onset of a bipolar episode the day after we arrived that saw me unable to enjoy it and heralded more hospital time. 2020 Ends In Hospital
I am stable now.
Over the weekend two of us dutifully took Covid tests for minor sniffles, both of which returned negative with plenty of time to spare before our scheduled departure.
When I woke up on Monday morning, the day before we were due to leave, I actually thought we would make it. And then news of the 3 day Brisbane lockdown broke, and my joy turned to misery. Our household was plunged into mourning. There were tears, cries of shock, and lead filled stomachs as we processed this loss for a second year in a row.
Is my wording a bit dramatic?
Are you itching to respond with the catch cry of this first world country, the mantra of our year?
‘It’s ok because others have it worse than you.’
Does that make it ok?
Should this fact completely invalidate our experience or feelings? Does our disappointment, grief and anger have anything to do with someone else’s (potentially worse) experience?
No. It is totally unrelated.
And often swallowing our feelings through gritted teeth can be unhealthier than just vomiting them out and moving on.
I first encountered the results of suppressing my emotions because ‘others had it worse’ the night before my daughter’s first birthday, thirteen years ago.
The condensed version of the time surrounding her birth (if you haven’t already read about it in some of my other posts) is this: A 32 hour labour on 2 hours sleep, developing postnatal psychosis 7 days later, a month later catatonic depression, months in a psychiatric hospital, electroconvulsive therapy and much medication, and finally home by the time my baby was 4 months old.
As I recovered, I practiced a lot of gratitude for my healthy baby, which in itself is not a problem, but I had not allowed myself to process my feelings about that time before I plunged into gratitude.
The night before her first birthday I was out to dinner with friends. I could not stop thinking about what had been about to happen to me the year before. On the way home I pulled into the maternity hospital car park and lost it.
I wailed, tears and snot streaming down my face. It was ugly. But I finally owned my grief, and silenced the pernicious little voice in my head that had been telling me that I had no right to my feelings because I had a healthy baby and ‘others had it so much worse’.
It was only once I’d allowed myself to feel my feelings that I could move on baggage free and feel genuine empathy for those who, in the big scheme of things, had experienced worse.
I am not naturally inclined to drama. I am all for perspective. At times I have been quick to paper over my children’s strong emotions with perspective, not because it is helpful to them in the moment, but because it lessens my discomfort at their distress.
Perspective serves an important purpose. If it is timed right. Once the initial urgent feelings have been dealt with and released, perspective can help us move on with our compassion for others intact. But forcing it too soon can trap us in resentment and on the exhausting hamster wheel of pretending we’re ok, when we’re not.
Perspective (however well intentioned) would have been an unwelcome guest in our house just after the news of the holiday cancellation broke. However, 2 days later it had just started to soothe me with the knowledge that it could indeed have been much worse.
Proof that this could have been much worse came just now. The Brisbane lockdown ends at noon today. Covid has pressed play again. Brisbane people get to dance into their Easter holidays.
For me? Right now? Perspective has again momentarily retreated.
Excuse me while I go away and vomit up my feelings about the military precision with which our holiday was assassinated. We were turned to stone over the exact two days when we needed to be dancing.
I will welcome perspective back once I have emptied myself of this minor resentment and am keeping everything crossed, that maybe the music won’t be stopped on our third rebooking in September.