2020 Ends In Hospital

I am going into hospital later today.

And I am aching to get there, straining towards the moment I close the door to my hospital room on a world I am the wrong shape for right now.

How did I get here this time?

Fourteen days ago I had a regular appointment with my psychiatrist. Just a Bipolar 1 Disorder monthly maintenance appointment. I was completely asymptomatic.

Thirteen days ago I left for our beach holiday and forgot to pack my swim wear. Subtle. I mean that could happen to anyone. Right? But by the following morning I was symptomatic alright. My short term memory and concentration were dissolving like sugar cubes in boiling water.

A buzzing pressure behind my eyes radiated up my forehead. I knew from bitter experience, if I did nothing, soon that buzzing could make me second guess what was real or not.

That was symptomatic enough to page my psychiatrist on a Saturday morning. It’s only the second time I’ve paged him out of hours in 14 years. He called back in under three minutes.

Over the last nearly two weeks, the first of which I stayed at the beach, he telephone consulted with me every second day, adjusting medications, a little more of this, a little more often of that. I slipped from my bed gratefully into the ocean, timing the most sedating medications for times when I’d be in bed not the ocean. I seemed a little better, maybe? But then not.

Back home we continued every second day phone consults, adjustments. This is by far not the sickest I have ever been (although psychosis and catatonic depression requiring ECT to reverse, do set a very low bar)

So why would I want to go into hospital, rather than continue treatment at home?

Here’s why:

The surface of my brain feels as though it is covered in papercuts and being surrounded by people and noise is like having lemon juice dribbled over the cuts.

Trying to hold in the irritability of being around people and noise (including my close family) is like being intensely nauseous with someone threatening to punish you if you vomit.

One of the parameters I use to assess how close I am to needing to go into hospital is ‘the sandwich test’. Think about the amount of concentration and short term memory it takes to make a sandwich – nothing fancy, just two slices of bread, some butter and one topping. For most healthy, able bodied, able brained adults, this is not a challenging task.

Right now – I can still make a sandwich, but it’s a challenge. I am making a decision, based on past experiences, not to wait with hospitalisation until challenge becomes an impossibility.

As for the seasonal timing – Christmas and New Years celebrations? I am veteran enough in the management of this illness to know it has no knowledge of nor respect for holidays and anniversaries. I could list my tenth and fifteenth wedding anniversaries as times spent in hospital, a longed for trip to Paris cancelled because of recent hospitalisation, and that would be the beginning of a list so long I’ve forgotten most of it. These times are just human constructs. If it swallows them I don’t dwell on them.

Instead I celebrate the unscathed special occasions extra hard, to make up for the times there is nothing.

The final reason for going into hospital now, is because I can access this level of care. I am fortunate to have the option of going into a private psychiatric hospital when I am sick. The standard of hospital care I will receive will be excellent. It will far exceed anything the public psychiatric hospital system has to offer.

I loathe getting sick enough to need hospital support. But perhaps even more than this I loathe the hypocrisy of someone with my privilege not utilising that support because of some misguided stigmatising ideas about what it means to be a patient in a psychiatric hospital.

I am profoundly grateful I can afford care in a good private psychiatric hospital. And part of my own recovery, once I’ve stabilised medically, is to remember there are many people living with this illness, and other severe mental illnesses, who are learning to live with them with far less support and privilege than I have. When my recovery feels hard I focus on this:

If I access the supports I am fortunate to have, I am more likely to be around for long enough to help raise awareness of the inequality between our private and public mental health hospital systems, and work towards our public mental health hospital system actually supporting some of our most vulnerable when they need it most.

If you are new to Thought Food and would like to know a little bit about who I am when I am well, you may like to check out:

Who Am I ?

Radio And Podcast Interviews

My 2018 World Mental Health Day

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How was your World Mental Health Day? Mine happened to be pretty shit.

It doesn’t really matter, because mental illness doesn’t respect particular days, especially those deemed meaningful by human beings. I’ve spent enough birthdays, Christmases, and anniversaries in hospital with a mental illness to lend weight to this theory.

Paying homage to mental health (ours or others) on a designated day seems like a nice idea on the surface, but I’m not convinced it does a lot. I suspect it makes people who don’t suffer a mental illness feel good if they remember it or mark it. But is this just another version of tokenism? Does it really make any difference to the lives of people living with mental illness every day of the year?

A very smart woman who ran the SANE Peer Ambassador training workshops I attended recently made the excellent point that we don’t have World Physical Health Day.

And that is because every single day is World Physical Health Day. It would be far better to reach a point in history where caring for ourselves and being sympathetic towards those around us with mental illness is as matter of fact as caring for our physical health. We shouldn’t need World Mental Health Day.

Here’s what today looked like for me:

10 am

‘You look flat’

There is only one person I trust to make this assessment, and it’s the one who spoke to me. My psychiatrist. He and I have known each other and worked together for just over twelve years now. And I have trusted him with my life many times.

For the last four days I have felt flat. It started with a sluggish Sunday. But everyone has those. Right? I am exhausted. That’s ok, understandable. It’s been a stressful couple of months. However, in the space of those few days ‘I’m exhausted’ morphed into: ‘I am exhausted by life.’

I have been on this runaway train often enough to know that feeling exhausted by life is the last stop before suicidal ideations set in. And that is where it turns into not ok. By yesterday, when I made the appointment with my psychiatrist, I was feeling worthless. Black thoughts crept in and crowded out the positive, the motivated, the real me.

Thankfully I have the insight to recognise these feelings and thoughts as imposters. These are symptoms of depression setting in. They have been waiting in the wings for their moment. My Bipolar Disorder is here to collect, on all the stress and sleep deprivation I had no say over in the last few months.

In the past I went to war against these thoughts and feelings. So naïve to think I could somehow out think or out feel them. Such a rookie error. As is waiting to see how it will all play out. That tends to land me in hospital for months at a time. So, after four sluggish days, feeling flat, off, down, irritable, and with my memory and concentration beginning to fray I walked into my psychiatrist’s consulting room this morning. That’s when he proclaimed, before asking me a single question, that I looked flat. And I felt relieved, because I knew I’d been right to come.

I listed my symptoms. He looked at my chart. Then, reminiscent of a pilot attempting to correct a plane out of a nose dive, he said:

‘Let’s increase the Lexapro by 10mg and halve your Lithium dose until your mood comes back up. As soon as your mood lifts, go straight back onto the full dose of Lithium. And keep your appointment for next Friday.’

‘Good. Let’s try that.’

Then we speak of the heavy truth between us:

‘And if I crash before then….’

‘Then you will call me and come into hospital.’

Neither of us want that. Neither of us want the months in hospital possibly having ECT, because I’ve become catatonic. Yet we both know it’s still a possibility.

So, in honour of World Mental Health Day 2018 – here are my thoughts on what will get me well again:

Insight. Communication. Early intervention with a medication adjustment. Fingers crossed. And luck…so much fucking luck…

Making Sense Of It

Treatment

What Does Someone With A Mental Illness Look Like?

Sick Not Selfish

Wedding Breakfast Spoiled

Lessons For A Control Freak

 

Birthday Conversations

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August is birthday month for me, several family members and friends, and is heralded by jasmine buds pointing their tender, pink noses at the sun all through late July. If I had no devices to track time with, I’d know August is here when those buds burst open into white flowers, suddenly like popcorn, perfuming the air with the anticipation of a fresh year.

Given how excited I get over cake and a party you could be forgiven for thinking I’m six. I’m about to turn forty-five. And I’m finding increasingly that people of my vintage grimace at, rather than celebrate being a year older. This puzzles me for several reasons. Still being alive is one of them. Then of course there’s cake.

I would also hate to be younger.

Continue reading “Birthday Conversations”

Media-Made Monsters

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Day six

(Confronting Content Ahead)

I don’t dwell on what might have happened had I been sent home on day five after my daughter was born. But whenever the news throws up sensational stories reporting murder, infanticide, or suicide, and there is even a slim possibility the perpetrator might have been psychotic – then I think about it. Because that could have been me.

Continue reading “Media-Made Monsters”

Muscle Memory

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We went roller blading over the school holidays. It was my first time. We arrived to loud music, children shrieking, the clank of skates hitting each other, and the thump of bodies crashing into the barriers. Roaming skate instructors, gave snippets of advice to the inept among us:

‘Lean forward and put your hands on your knees. Don’t look at the ground.’

With each instruction the tension in my body ramped up.

Continue reading “Muscle Memory”

Modern Martyrdom

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In our first world society martyrdom is more insidious than the lick of flames on skin, the sizzle as fire catches hair. If you don’t count what can happen on social media, we don’t have public disembowellings. And the causes we sacrifice ourselves for are often not great, necessary, or noble.

Martyrdom today is working until midnight every night doing a job you hate until it breaks you, without investigating your options. It is smugly telling your mothers’ group that you breastfed your baby as your cracked nipples dripped blood, because you were doing what was ‘best for your baby’. It’s going to work even though you’ve got the flu, because you believe you are indispensable. It is having Sunday lunch with your extended family every week even though it drains you emotionally.

Most of us fall into the trap of martyring ourselves for something at some stage. I did so early on in my career.

Continue reading “Modern Martyrdom”

The Chosen Ones

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Are you aware something incredibly special happened last weekend? I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been a participant.

A group of magicians gathered in a non-descript conference room last Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday. We had all been chosen to be part of this gathering. To begin with this meeting resembled thousands of others. Polite introductions, bottles of water, ring bound folders, pens, name tags, dishes of individually packaged mentos lollies on the table, a white board. The reason for meeting could have been anything.

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Autumn Confessions

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I had an entirely different post planned and almost ready to go this week. I lost momentum, and its tone remained whiny, even with repeated editing. So instead, here are some snapshots of my last couple of weeks:

Brisbane takes it’s sweet time moving into autumn and winter. The hot days and humid nights seem to loiter for longer every year. Then one day you realise that air conditioning is unecessary and sweat is no longer a constant companion to skin. The introduced species of trees begin to glow sunset colours before they shed their summer coats, and brittle leaves scuttle along the footpaths.

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My Father’s Heart Broke

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Showing me the world – Riad, Saudi Arabia 1975

I spent the first days of this week on the windblown roof of a sky scraper. It was so tall that the air felt thin, and my stomach was in free fall. The sky scraper was my heart. Most of the time my brain rules my heart. It translates emotion into logic, even in moments when emotion is appropriate. Seven days ago, I heard these words pertaining to my father:

‘Massive heart attack, nearly died in ambulance, going in for emergency triple bypass surgery now.’

Continue reading “My Father’s Heart Broke”

The Support Crew

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(Confronting content ahead)

One evening about eight years ago:

I pretend to share dinner with my husband on our deck. The air between us is loaded with the conversation we are about to have. I drag my eyes from my untouched food up in his direction and ask:

‘Why can’t you just let me go? Haven’t I suffered enough?’

He explodes:

‘How can you be so selfish? I’d be explaining to our children why you left us for the rest of my life.’

The tiny bit of energy I have left coalesces into a red-hot ball of anger

‘Don’t you dare call me selfish after everything I have been through. Ever! I wouldn’t be leaving you. I’d be doing you all a favour.’

Continue reading “The Support Crew”