Silent Night Instead Of Chaotic Christmas

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Childhood Christmas memories (early 1980s)

It seems Christmas tends to wound us. Just judging by all the calls to look after ourselves at this time of year. Every day brings a fresh wave of breezy yet cautionary social media posts urging us to practice ‘self-care’ more now than ever. And apparently, grief and illness don’t take a break for this most wonderful time of the year. Who knew?

It is true that the expectation to be happy because it’s Christmas (both unspoken and sung loudly) adds unnecessary pressure to already busy lives. It is not in today’s Christmas’s nature to nurture.

For a holiday supposedly espousing kindness, joy and happiness, it doesn’t heal the hurts the year might have inflicted on us. If anything, it deepens our wounds because it insists we turn ourselves inside out to please the world, rather than recovering from the demands of the year. Perhaps, if we approached Christmas less as something that will inevitably leave us feeling worn out and stressed, we wouldn’t need to heed social media advice to ‘look after ourselves over the festive season’.

What if Christmas were all about replenishing ourselves as opposed to needing self-care as damage control?

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2018 – The Year I:

Thought about homelessness, after I witnessed displaced people with cardboard placards to explain their belongings smudging the busy and important streets of Sydney in the first days of the new year. My emotional barometer flicked between pity, sadness, relief, and settled on horror because this could still be me one day. The Right To A Home

Went to work. After twenty years the neural pathways for running a consultation competently and compassionately, for reading who I am in a room with, and being a shock absorber for their anxieties and concerns, are so well-worn they are almost automatic. Contrary to popular belief (and this photo), we spend much less time playing with puppies and kittens, than we do using our communication skills to explain, empathise, and advise our way to the best outcome for our patients via their owners.20170619_130857

Felt it come for me. In February, over two days. My sanity stepped into quicksand. Mania swallowed me. I called into work sick. I said goodbye to my family. I went into hospital. Battened down my hatches and prepared for the usual long stay. Only to be pleasantly surprised. Four weeks in hospital. That’s short for me.

Lost my job. I do every time I get sick.

Opened new neural pathways by setting up a website, which enabled me to write and publish this blog. My technological ineptitude is boundless, so the existence of Thought Food is a minor miracle.

Supported three men. All stepping through the sticky tar of depression at some point this year. All blindsided by the ferocious nature of this beast. All strong, kind, intelligent, undeserving.

Exercised most days. Ate green vegetable omelets for breakfast some days and Nutella on toast with mug loads of coffee on others. #NotFitspo

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Welcomed Clarence, our baby Stimsons python into the family. He is the lowest maintenance pet I have encountered. Gentle, inquisitive, and only needs to be fed every seven to ten days.

Continued to receive rejection after rejection of the manuscript for my memoir from publishers via one of the best literary agents in the country. Each one stings. Each one frustrates. According to publishers’ feedback the quality of the writing is great, but it’s not commercial enough. In other words: No one wants to read about psychosis if you haven’t killed someone in the throes of it or at the very least been picked up wandering the streets nude and ranting.

Began considering self-publishing the manuscript for my memoir.

Climbed back into some weekend work.

Heard my mother’s voice tell me my father had nearly died after a massive heart attack. Seeing him on day two after triple bypass surgery, comatose, tubes and wires snaking in and out of him, and the comforting blips and beeps and numbers flashing on familiar screens was easier than seeing him on day four, awake, in agony with each movement. He survived. My Father’s Heart Broke

Applied for, was accepted into, and completed the SANE Peer Ambassador training program. The glow of being in a room with others who went through hell, survived, and are now well enough to use that experience for good, still warms me. And I finally feel I’m not advocating on my own anymore. The Chosen Ones

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Gathered friends for dinners and lunches to enable my love of cooking, baking, great food and wine, and conversation…so much conversation.

 

 

 

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Became familiar with the inside of an ambulance courtesy of seven night time trips to hospital in ten days. My son developed partial seizures lasting up to ninety minutes each. Relief flooded me when his MRI scan was clear (of brain tumours) and he was diagnosed with benign rolandic epilepsy (infinitely more manageable). Lessons For A Control Freak

Clung to small wins amongst the manuscript rejections. Three posts published on Mamamia, one on SANE, and a submission for Dr Mark Cross’s book on anxiety accepted.

https://www.mamamia.com.au/mental-illness-language/

https://www.mamamia.com.au/symptoms-of-postnatal-psychosis/

https://www.mamamia.com.au/signs-of-depression/

Narrowly avoided a second hospital admission in October. I pounced on the onset of a depressive episode with an emergency psychiatrist appointment, a medication adjustment and slashed away all commitments except exercise for several weeks. Razor Blades In Mud: Laziness Or Depression?

Became a spokes person for the Australian Genetics of Bipolar Disorder Study, and suggested edits to make the language in the main study survey more consistent and less stigmatising. Most of my edits were approved and included less than twenty-four hours before the study launched. A clip of some of my participation and how to participate in the study can be found here:

https://www.geneticsofbipolar.org.au/hear-from-study-participants-alex-anita/

Attended my first ever non-veterinary conference: ‘Empowering online advocates’ and came away feeling much more hopeful than the trip to Sydney in January had left me. #HealtheVoicesAU

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Discovered the joy of camping, absolutely enabled and enhanced by beautiful friends who supplied (and set up) most of the gear.

Resigned from veterinary work. Ostensibly to stop straddling several worlds and free up more time and energy for writing, mental health advocacy, and my children. That is all true. But I am also bone crushingly tired of the cycle. Work, get sick, lose employment because the nature of my illness means I can’t give a date when I’ll be well enough to return, and I can be sick for months. Then I clamber my way back into a demanding profession you can only inhabit when you are functioning at 100% of your capability. I expend time, energy, and money to do enough CPD (continuing professional development) to keep my registration up to date…only to lose it all again the next time I get sick. The plan is two years off. Then see where I’m at.

Received a handwritten Christmas card and instant scratchie from my pharmacist… one of my six medications alone costs $30/week. Treatment

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Reminded you to end the year saying no when your gut tells you to, and being kind to yourself when you feel like doing the opposite.

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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.

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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.

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The Best Friends

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I don’t have a best friend. I have several.

My first best friend and I shared the ages five to thirteen in a tiny village in southern Germany. We explored our world freely. The church bells and the colour of the sky were our only reminders of when to go home. We played in the woods. We watched frogspawn turn into tadpoles. We climbed trees. We built igloos and snowmen. We ate wild raspberries and blackberries straight off the hedge. We rode our bikes everywhere. Then, one rainy October afternoon, everything changed.

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Progress

This lemon coconut cake is a marker. It is incredibly easy to make. You melt the butter and mix it with all the rest of the ingredients and bake it. The icing is also simple enough for a young child to make. And yet, four or five weeks ago – making this cake would have been impossible for me. I would have struggled to concentrate for long enough to read this beginner’s recipe. I’d have gone to the pantry or the fridge unable to remember what I was there to get – not just once, but again and again and again. I would have forgotten to add at least one of the ingredients, or to turn the oven on. And if I’d persisted with the process of trying to make this cake, I would have grown unbelievably frustrated with myself. If I had no experience with the signs that comprise my Bipolar 1 Disorder, I would have beaten myself to a pulp over my inability to perform a simple task. A task I could normally perform while on the phone, and with my eyes almost closed.

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Are You ‘Shoulding’ All Over Your Life?

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As we enter the pointy end of the year my trusty, hard copy 2017 diary is filling up. There are end of year everythings to go to. There are kids’ concerts. There are art shows and celebrations of learning. There are special assemblies and swimming carnivals. There is keeping a spotless house…WHAT THE? Oops I seem to have slipped into someone else’s list because that one never makes it onto mine. But it’s an easy mistake to make – the straying into someone else’s list of ‘Shoulds’. There are extra work shifts, and continuing education seminars. There are more invitations for catch ups with friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues. There is of course Christmas – no longer quietly creeping up, but everywhere we look, reminding us to worship. At the altar of consumerism. Impending Christmas shouts that we should put reindeer antlers on our cars and see people we might not otherwise choose to spend time with.

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