Go On. Judge Me.

Sometimes I see people at the shops, and I’m like “whoooaaa man. Nice parenting skills. Nice screaming at each other and making a scene skills. Nice that your kids don’t have shoes on their feet. Nice 80’s hair do.”

Then I’m like “Nice judgemental skills Rachael. Sheesh. Like you are so perfect.” And then I’m like “Yeah ok. I’m judging. I shouldn’t….but seriously…NO SHOES. WHAT. IS. THAT?!”

I need to stop, stop, stop it.

The thing is, what we see of other people is a tiny glimpse into their lives. Those mothers screaming at their kids…maybe they have had a really bad day? And by the same token; the perfectly well groomed mothers with their perfectly well behaved seven children…maybe pandemonium breaks out as soon as they get home. Maybe one of them will grow up to be a serial killer. Who is to know?

Regardless, if I had seen myself at the shops this morning I would have judged. Go on. Judge me.

I was wild haired with an expression of steel. Dragging a kid with his pants on backwards through the shops, the kid crying “Mummy! You’re going too fast!” I groaned when he said he needed to go to the toilet. I lost my rag with the young girl in the post office and went on a tirade that involved the phrases “This is ridiculous”, and “You’ve got to be kidding me”. I rolled my eyes at the older couple as they parked next to me. I swore in the car, and when Master D asked what was wrong I shouted at him to be quiet. I then got home, sat my kid in front of the TV, tossed him a bag of Tiny Teddies and popped a Lorazapam.

But ya see, that’s only half the story.

Master D’s pants were on backwards because he has just made the transition to independent toilet go-er, and sometimes, when he is so proud of himself for completing the task, I don’t have the heart to tell him his pants are on the wrong way.

I was dragging him because we were late for my passport appointment at the post office. We were late because my little angel decided to throw a fifteen minute tantrum that can only be described as demonic, five minutes before we were supposed to leave. Like he has been doing every single day since January the 1st, when he decided day naps were for sissies, sleeping in past five am is for the weak, and his new years resolution was to throw a wobbly each time one of his parents ask him to put his shoes on.

I groaned when he told me he needed the toilet because, when we are out, this is almost always a ruse. Whereas for me (and I imagine most people), using public restroom facilities is only something done under necessity and extreme duress, Master D enjoys the thrill and novelty of using a public dunny. When we are out he will always ask to go, sometimes in the most awkward of circumstances. I take him, he sits there pleased as punch, talking about the toilet paper and what the poor sod in the next stall is doing, then informs me that “the wee’s aren’t coming out.” But you just can’t take the chance that he actually DOES need to go, and risk an awkward puddle (or worse) on the floor. So, I took him to the Public Restroom of Wonder. For the record; he didn’t go.

I lost my rag with the young girl at the post office, because for reasons quite baffling to me, it has taken over three months for me to update my Australian passport.  I have been turned away five times for reasons including that I I haven’t got a “proper” marriage certificate (although it has served me just fine for every other purpose for my entire married life). Now I am annoyingly organised. I quadruple check things. I colour code my diary by event type and task urgency. My household chores are completed on certain days of the week. My spice rack is frigging alphabetised. HOW IS IT SO DIFFICULT TO COMPLETE A SIMPLE FORM?  Needless to say I was fairly unimpressed after waiting in line with a whingy toddler, for my fifth interview, proudly brandishing my new marriage certificate purchased at great expense from a courthouse on the other side of the city, only to be turned away because I didn’t have my BRITISH passport with me. Say what?

I rolled my eyes at the older couple because despite the fact that there were at least 100 bays available in the carpark, they chose to park right next to me, extremely close, and on the same side that I was trying to strap Master D in and handle the bags of groceries. I had to practically trap my arse in the car door so they could fit in their spot. Why? Why, I ask you?!

I swore in the car because some jerk pulled out in front of me, and when I get a fright, sometimes I involuntarily say “fuck”. I yelled at Master D to be quiet because I was in the process of slamming my breaks on and having a heart attack. Afterwards, I explained to Master D that I had seen “a duck!”. He didn’t care. He was too busy playing with Thomas the Tank Engine.

I don’t like putting my kid in front of the TV during the day. And I don’t like giving him sugary snacks. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do to keep your sanity. Yesterday he helped me make rice and almond milk, tzatziki, broccoli salad, and dairy free/wheat free brioche. Today he gets Tiny Teddies and TV. Knowing him, he probably preferred that latter.

I popped a Lorazapam because I’m in the process of withdrawal which is *awesome*. I’m trying to get off these meds, but thanks to the doctor who put me on a high dose, at a high frequency, for an extended period of time, when I didn’t have the mental capability to refuse, I’m kind of biologically addicted. I’m working on it. I’ll get there. One day I’ll figure out how to cut these tiny pills into tiny tiny pieces. But for now it’s kind erratic. I’ll take one, then three days later, burned from lack of sleep and panic attacks, I’ll cave and take another. Today was one of those days.

The one thing I cannot excuse was my hair. Unacceptable, obviously.

I’ll always remember a story I was told. A father was on the train with his three kids who were extremely hyperactive and badly behaved. The father sat there. He didn’t try and stop the kids from disturbing other passengers. A woman sitting in the booth near them was getting more and more irritated by the kids. She was just about to say something when, as if he had read her mind, the father leaned over to her and said “I’m sorry about the kids. They are upset. We have just come from the hospital. Their mother died today.”

There is always another side to the story.

12 Deadly Sins: Secrets behind Self Harm

Warning: Some people may find this post triggering. For help with self harm please refer to resources such as Headspace, Helpguide, Lifeline, or call your local crisis helpline. 

When I was 15 I was diagnosed with major depression, panic disorder and an eating disorder. Because I wasn’t confused enough, later on I was also diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, and numerous other unpleasant sounding things ending in “disorder”. Basically, no one knew what was going on.

It was a bit of a shithouse time really, culminating in a hospitalisation, threatened subsequent hospitalisations, and a fair amount of general chaos. Medication never worked because, obviously, I actually had Bipolar disorder, and prescribing anti-depressants without a mood stabiliser to someone with Bipolar disorder will usually just make things worse. But the doctors never picked up on that. So…one of my coping strategies was self harm.

I remember the first time I hurt myself. I had just come home from lunch at a cafe. I was freaking out over what I had eaten – not because I was afraid of becoming fat, but because I thought the kitchen staff were trying to poison me (and despite telling the doctors this concern every single frigging week, the professionals never picked up on my psychosis either. Probably because middle class, skinny, teenage, perfectionistic, high achieving, introverted girls don’t have psychosis. They have Anorexia.) Anyway, I tried to make myself puke. That was a fail. So out of pure frustration I grabbed a pair of scissors and scratched myself.

Immediately I felt relief. And about 10 seconds after that; shame.

Harming myself was like a weird drug. I started doing it more and more. I became addicted to it. I am not going to go into morbid detail because I know how triggering this kind of stuff can be. But hurting myself felt like the one control I had in my life. It felt like I was externalising all the pain inside and making it visible. It was my punishment. It was my reward. It was my secret.

This topic is not something I have ever really written about on here. To be honest with you, I don’t really like thinking about what I did to myself. But I think this is a topic worth discussing. There is so much controversy over self harm. And so much disrespect. Those who self harm are mocked, seen as attention seekers, and dismissed.

I can’t speak for others, but I never self harmed for attention. Attention was the last thing I wanted, even going to the extent of self harming in places only I would see, or wearing long sleeved tops on even the hottest of days. I self harmed because I didn’t know what else to do. I self harmed because it was a release. I self harmed because I was unwell.

That’s another thing: there is a myth that self harming is a kind of suicide attempt. I didn’t want to kill myself. Well, I did, at times. But my self harm wasn’t a symptom of suicidality. My self harming behaviour was a tool, a destructive tool, that got me through some of the most difficult days of my life. For me, it wasn’t a step towards ending it all.

Then one day I realised that I was running the risk of permanently scarring my body, in a way that would be eternally difficult to explain. I realised that I wanted to wear a bikini. That one day I would walk down the aisle and may want a sleeveless wedding dress. That I might have a kid who would ask what I did to myself. That it just wasn’t a healthy way of behaving. So I stopped. I say it like it was easy. It wasn’t. There was a long period after I self harmed regularly where it would be my “go-to” strategy if I was upset. It took a long time to change my behaviour. But I did it. And aside from the freak out I had in the locked ward last year, which I don’t tend to count as I was rampantly psychotic and actually set on killing myself as opposed to harming myself , I haven’t self harmed in years.

Luckily I don’t have many noticeable scars. But the ones I do remind me every day on how far I have come, and the path I have walked.

When I was a teenager I wrote a lot of poetry and songs. Today I came across this poem, and it stuck out to me. For me this explains perfectly the allure, horror and truth behind self harming.

12 deadly sins

Feels like fire

My opened flesh

Secrets exposed

How I like it best.

Razor sharp

Indulge my skin

But it’s never enough

To purge my sins

1 because I’m not good enough for you

2 for all the wrongs I do

3 for keeping back the truth

4 for the way that I treat you

5 for my ugly face

6 for this unwanted space

7 for the lies I’ve told

8 for this razor I hold

9 for the pain inside

10 for my hopes to die

11 because I can’t stop now

12 because I don’t know how.

12 purple scars

upon my thigh

I keep them well hidden

So you won’t ask why.

12 deadly sins

my punishment kept

12 000 tears

my cruel hands have wept.

I Wish I Had Broken My Leg

“I wish I had just broken my leg.” She told me, as we sat in together on the cracked and threadbare sofa in the psychiatric ward. “My brother-in-law broke his leg a few months back. Stupid motorcycle accident. His fault, by the way. He was in hospital for less than 24 hours. The entire family descended. Brought him cards and presents. Cleaned the house. Cooked him meals…I have been sick for months. I have been in hospital for weeks. Not a single person has visited me, cooked meals for my family, babysat my kids, sent me a card, or even acknowledged our trauma. I guess people understand physical pain more than mental pain…Why couldn’t I have just broken my damn leg?”

I empathise and understand her story. I believe this is the unfortunate, frustrating, and upsetting case for many – if not most – individuals hospitalised for psychiatric reasons. But I don’t necessarily agree with her point.

Because, come on, who doesn’t understand mental pain.

Everyone in the world has undergone some form of mental pain. While, obviously, the entire population doesn’t suffer from diagnosable mental illness, I refuse to believe that ANYONE sails through life without feeling some degree of emotional turmoil – whether it be loneliness, heartbreak, fear, or sadness. Turn your radio on. I guarantee that 90% of the songs given airtime detail emotional states, both positive and negative. Artists don’t sell albums filled with songs about their broken legs.  It’s all about broken hearts.

It’s not lack of understanding. It’s discrimination and stigma.

I have two chronic illnesses that I deal with every day. Both offer their own “special” challenges. But I often think to myself that if I were to play favourites, I would prefer my autoimmune disease to my mental illness.

Don’t get me wrong. My autoimmune disease is a giant pain. Literally. I am so sick of explaining it to people. To having this rare illness that no one, not even the so called professionals have heard of. To having to read every single ingredient with a fine tooth comb. Of irritating the restaurant staff with my paranoid questioning. Of hurling in the car park afterwards anyway. Of indescribable pain and pills. Of fevers and fatigue and the kind of bone ache that makes you want to cry. Of highly unpleasant tests and procedures. Of hearing that my blood eosinophil level is four times the normal limit. And that’s an improvement. Of being scared to eat new foods. Of not leaving the house without a vomit bag. Of being threatened with steroids and hardcore immunosuppresants that have serious side effects. Of being sick.

But, you know, people respect it.

If I throw up or have an allergic reaction or go to bed with fevers and sweats, people are generally sympathetic. If I can’t go to a social occasion because I am physically unwell, people are cool with it. “Get well!” They say. “Rest up!” They say.

But if I become mentally unwell, people (with exception, of course, to the few of my closest and most wonderful loved ones) don’t tell me to “Get well” or “Rest up”. I am encouraged to pull myself together. Keep my chin up. Not feel sorry for myself. Think of people who have worse problems.

If Physical Illness Were Treated The Same As Mental Illness: Image from: http://imgur.com/CWFTYoV

If Physical Illness Were Treated The Same As Mental Illness: Image from: http://imgur.com/CWFTYoV

Like mental experience doesn’t count.

Talk about double standards.

Those of us with mental illness are somehow expected to negate our emotional experience, while validating the emotional experiences of others through expected social interaction. We are not allowed to be clinically depressed, manic, or psychotic. But we must listen and empathise with those who are stressed, tired, involved in some sort of altercation, lovesick, feeling guilty, feeling happy, etc etc. Of course, if we want to be sad after a break up, or a death, or a job loss we can. But only for a socially acceptable amount of time, and only to a socially acceptable degree.

In my ideal world my mental illness would be treated with the same respect as my physical illness. And in my ideal world suicidal individuals would receive the help they need, and those who self harmed wouldn’t fear seeking medical assistance. Funds would be issued to psychiatric hospitals. Mental illness wouldn’t be viewed as something only the weak or dangerous succumb to. When I was younger, I  wouldn’t have hid my illness for months because I was scared of what people would say.

As time goes on, the less and less I seem to care about what people think of my mental illness.  In the famous words of Dr. Suess “Those who matter don’t mind. And those who mind don’t matter.” My experiences have weeded out the people who don’t matter. The people who have a problem with the fact that I have an illness I did not choose to suffer from (and I loath to use this term, as I do feel there are positive aspects of mental illness as well as negative). But I also know that I am fortunate, and possibly somewhat of an exception. I know who my true supporters are. My family and close friends are exceptional. Many others struggling with mental illness don’t have this kind of back up. I’m one of the lucky ones.

But sometimes I sit back and wonder how many people I would have lost if I had broken my leg instead.

Going Back to What I Started

Well, I’m pleased to announce that we emerged from Christmas relatively unscathed.

Of course, Hubster received a Nerf gun from his Secret Santa, then promptly shot my sister in the eye which resulted in a Christmas Eve trip to the doctor. Although this was vaguely traditional. Christmas isn’t Christmas in our household if someone doesn’t end up in the Emergency Room. Master D announced to the table in a rather stern manner that “we don’t eat poo’s, only dinners” (not particularly complimentary of my food, I felt). Mum decided to back her computer up which somehow resulted the kind of chaos only my family can achieve; deep and meaningful discussions on the best method of backing up, accusations of “nephelious” content, and despair when the back up was predicted to take 67 days. And no one seemed to appreciate my helpful renditions of “Back that Thang Up” by Juvenile.

But all in all, it was a good Christmas. I didn’t poison myself. For that matter, I didn’t poison anyone else. No one poisoned me. To get to the point, no vomiting or morphine based drugs were required. And I only had one panic attack. Unscathed.

Now I have to face the fact that in under two weeks I am going back to university. My emotional response to this is variable, but almost always resides sonewhere on a five point scale ranging from “Slightly Dubious” to “Holy Crap”

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE what I do. I love writing. I love researching. I’m passionate about reducing mental illness stigma. I sure as hell want to earn my title of “doctor”. I’ve worked damn hard to get to the point I am at.

But I’m scared.

You see, I started my PhD last year. I was given a scholarship that only nine others were offered. I was told my by supervisors and other academic staff that I was talented and could go far in the industry. I was invited to present at the national conference in my first six months which is HUGE.

And then I got sick, spent five months in hospital, and had to take the rest of the year off. I had to bow out of the conference (although my talk was still presented by my supervisor). While I was having ECT I couldn’t even remember what my thesis was on. Now I have to go back into the office. Say “hi” to all the people I haven’t seen for a year. And somehow pick up where I left of. It is incredibly daunting.

And on top of undertaking a full-time PhD, which is, I’m assuming, challenging at the best of times. I have to do it in half the time due to difficulties in childcare arrangements. I currently have three days a week to achieve what my colleagues do in five or six. This is not even including research assistant work and/or teaching. I also have to factor in, not one, but two chronic illnesses. I also have a three year old. Just to save time here: “yes”I have thought about going part time, “no” it is not possible without forfeiting my scholarship and putting my family into a inferior financial position.

The thing is, I keep worrying. I had terrible side effects from ECT. What if my mind won’t work the way it used to? What if I get sick again? What if I let everyone down? And here is the big one: What if I am unable to achieve what I have wanted to do since I was about 12 years old?

I did, in a particularly rebellious moment, decide to pack in the PhD and become a Fudge Master instead. I like making fudge. People like eating it. And It may or may not be an uncracked industry. I decided my business would be called “MotherFudger” and I would sell my stash at the local markets. Unfortunately my dream was cut short when I realised there was already a “MotherFudger” out there (well, many actually. But we won’t go into that). I also worked out that even if I ripped off the buying community with overpriced product, my fudge profit margin would probably still put me under the poverty line. So that idea, in short, was “fudged” from the get go.

So with Plan B knocked off the list, it is back to Plan A. I’ve thought about and how I will handle it, and all that does is make me incredibly stressed. So I’ve come up with three basic PhD rules:

1) Take each day at a time and don’t put too much pressure on yourself
2) No degree is more important than your physical and mental health
3) No degree is more important than your son and family

I also came up with a reminder:

Do your best, but if it doesn’t work out you are not a failure. You can always go back to the degree in the future.

So I’m getting my laptop in order. Rereading my notes. Boxing up data to take into the office. And after all this time I’m going to go back to what I started.
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The Inappropriate Giggle

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I have a confession…I have a terrible affliction.

The Inappropriate Giggle.

Oh, God. It’s a bad case. My family will back me up. If there is ever a time in my life where IT WOULD BE REALLY INAPPROPRIATE TO LAUGH. I laugh.

I even hear this voice in my head (just to clarify this isn’t one of my “voices”, it is way too sensible for that) that says “Rachael. The worst possible thing you could do right now is laugh. For the love of God. Do. Not. Laugh.” And then I do. And then I want to smack myself. But I don’t because I’m already being inappropriate enough.

To give you an idea of the calibre of situations I laugh in: I laughed when my cat got his tail run over and the Vet told us it may need amputation. I laughed when my Mum’s dog died. I laughed when my Mum’s living dog decided to get into an altercation with a potentially deadly snake and almost died. I laugh when people yell at me. I laugh when I yell at people. I laugh when I get told bad news. I laugh in solemn occasions – particularly religious ceremonies. I laugh during exams. In elevators. When something really crappy happens. You name it, if it is inappropriate. I laugh. In fact, I laughed while writing this paragraph just thinking of the inappropriate times I have laughed. As you can see. IT IS AN ISSUE.

And obviously, you know, I don’t REALLY think any of this kind of stuff is funny. Bipolar I may be, but pathological sociopath I am not. But it’s like a reflex reaction that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I promise you I am not really the cold/heartless/incredibly annoying person that this giggle makes me out to be. I’m just really bad at controlling my emotions.

Tell me I’ve won the lottery and I’ll be all “Uh. Ok. Well that’s nice. Thanks.” Tell me the world is about to, I don’t know, DIE, and I’ll probably laugh. Laughing is my default reaction when I feel anxious, afraid, awkward, or pretty much any negative emotion. The stronger the emotion, the greater urge I have to laugh. Why, yes. I do annoy myself.

But you know, I guess it’s a part of me. And something, obviously, I need to work on before I raise another generation of Inappropriate Gigglers. So I had a think, and in the interest of saving time if I ever desire a career change, I compiled a list of occupations that I simply cannot do as a result of my Inappropriate Giggle.

– Medical doctor
– Lawyer
– Spy
– Funeral Director
– Personal Trainer, particularly if it was on The Biggest Loser
– Anything involving live TV.
– Badass criminal
– Bra fitter
– Anyone who repeatedly needs to sack people
– Teacher (ironically my first serious career choice. It all went wrong from the moment I unwittingly selected the book describing how babies are made to read to my five year olds  at story time. Of course I didn’t laugh. I’m totally mature.)
– Politician
– News reader/Journalist
– Telemarketer, army officer, or pretty much anything that has a likelihood of me being yelled at.

Now that list depressed me. I mean, dude. My desire for the gangsta life is officially off limits. Back to the drawing board. So I decided to put a positive spin on things and create a list of future occupations that I COULD partake in. The fact that I have neither the qualifications or attributes to do any of these jobs is irrelevant. The important thing is that I won’t offend the masses by laughing at inopportune moments.

– Dog Trainer
– Farmer
– Chef
– IT (or perhaps not….)
– Athlete
– Librarian
– Janitor
– Eccentric artist
– Rock star who can do whatever the hell she wants
– Comedian
– Plumber/Electrician/Builder
– Graphic Designer
– Pretty much anything similar to my current role which involves sitting at a desk all day, communicating mainly by email and composing myself for the occasional meeting.

So there you have it. My little not so secret secret. The Inappropriate Giggle is not a laughing matter. Except when it is.

Are there any of you out there with this terrible affliction? Or am I laughing (in a rather awkward manner) alone?

Like, Wow! From “Nofriendo” to “Freshly Pressed”

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I started a blog a few years ago because I like to write. For me, writing is a release and often my way of dealing with issues. I also like talking about myself. So ya know, it was really the perfect combination. I gave the address to a few friends and family members, and given the pathetic size of traffic I received, I have my doubts as to whether anyone stopped by to read my ramblings (and let’s be honest here. Can you blame them?) I didn’t care. I wrote for me. Like, literally. I wrote FOR ME. I was in some sort of strange twilight zone mindset where I would write about my innermost thoughts and feelings ON THE INTERNET, hit publish, and then be all “THIS IS ON THE INTERNET! WHAT IF SOMEONE READS IT!” What can I say? I’m strange.

But I continued to write. I switched my platform to WordPress. My “writers anxiety” started to settle down.  I’ve always been a faithful reader to a number of blogs, but I started actually leaving comments and communicating. This was one of the best things my blog has brought me – a sense of community. Mental illness can be so isolating, and I now I am in contact with so many wonderful people, blogs, and communities who all share similar experiences.

Suddenly people were commenting on MY writing (always lovely and supportive. No trolls, although, to be honest, being trolled would have probably just amused me. Disclaimer: this is not an open invitation to trolls). People were even “following” me! I was like “What the dickens?!” Even the closest person to me in the world, my husband, only reads my posts under duress. The thought that people “liked” what I was saying, and that they were signing up VOLUNTARILY to read more pleased me to no end.

Anyway I kept chugging along. Writing about what ever took my fancy, on whatever day I felt like it. I opened a Twitter account  and spent about a week trying to work out how to use it. Oh, who am I kidding. I’m still working out how to use it. But even though I love all the comments and feedback I have received on Finding My Sunshine, I still write for me. I have never written a post with the intention of gaining a lot of traffic. I wouldn’t even know how to do that. I write about what is on my mind. Some of it is serious. Some of it is ridiculous. But it’s me.

On Tuesday, the Sydney Siege was on my mind, so in the 45 minutes I had before picking up my Dad from the airport (which, by the way was a complete disaster because I broke down in the middle of the road causing mass chaos and pandemonium. But that’s a whole other story), I wrote I’ll Ride With You. That night I was far too occupied with good-for-nothing cars to think about my blog. I certainly didn’t feel my post was anything particularly special.

So imagine the next morning when I woke up to my phone going berserk. Well, that and the fact that Master D was calling up the stairs that he had a pooey nappy that needed changing. After yesterdays poo explosion (his. Not mine) I was doing that “pretending to be asleep” thing that all parents do at some point or another. As soon as Hubster left to deal with the “shituation” I grabbed my phone and checked. About 30 seconds later, I became completely overwhelmed.

I had a very nice email from the WordPress editors congratulating me on being  featured on Freshly Pressed! The first thing I did was open up I’ll Ride With You and check I hadn’t written something incredibly stupid that was now going to be seen by hundreds of people. Phew. It looked good. People were liking it and commenting and following me. I could not believe it! I may have squealed.

Obviously I had always known about Freshly Pressed. But it was never something I even anticipated ever being featured on. I never wrote to try and be featured. It was all completely unexpected, and no one was more shocked than I. In 24 hours, hundreds of people have “liked” the post. My follower count has more than doubled. I am SO excited about this…but there is a small part of me that feels that I have been caught singing in the shower and pushed onto a stage. I have lots of new followers, no doubt, expecting me to write something spectacular. I’m not sure I know how to!

So, I am going to continue on as normal. Writing about my experiences with mental illness, desire for the reduction of stigma, and sometimes, completely random crap. That’s all I know and all I can do. Thank you all, awesome readers,  for your support, your comments, and your participation in my journey. And to my newest followers, welcome! I hope you enjoy the ride.

I’ll Ride With You

You know, every time I hear that some idiot has gotten hold of a gun and committed unspeakable crimes I brace myself for the almost inevitable revelation that he or she was “mentally ill.”

Then, in that moment, in addition to the horror of violence, the destruction of lives, and the grieving of loved ones and communities, stigma is resurrected. All the work we all do to reduce stigma, to educate others, to prove to society that the mentally ill are not dangerous and should not be feared or discriminated against becomes moot. These unspeakable acts offer proof to society that the mentally ill ARE dangerous. That we should be feared. And we, as advocates of mental health, need to work that little bit harder once more.

The same can be said for Muslim communities. Except, unlike mental illness which is largely invisible, Muslim individuals cannot hide their faith. And, quite frankly, they shouldn’t have to.

Yesterday, Australia watched on in disbelief as a political extremist held seventeen innocent people hostage, at gunpoint, for over sixteen hours in the Lindt Cafe in Sydney’s CBD. The siege ended in tragedy when heavily armed police were forced to enter the building, the once bustling cafe lighting up in the night with gunfire and the air pierced with screams. Tragically, two people, a 38 year old mother of three and the the 34 year old manager of the cafe, lost their lives. Four more were injured, including a police officer. The community, and the nation in general, was rocked.

As soon as I heard the news, turned on the TV and saw that an Islamic flag was being held up in the window of the cafe, I literally flinched. Shit. I thought. Not again. This is a really bad time to be an Australian Muslim. 

Before so, but particularly since the absolutely horrific events of 9/11, Muslim and Islamic communities have been stigmatised and discriminated against. Innocent men, women and children who have absolutely nothing to do with the violent acts of religious and political extremists are harassed, bullied, and assaulted. I’ve heard stories of women getting onto busses with their children and being called “terrorists” and spat at. Muslim men being attacked walking home. Mosques being vandalised. How is the direct persecution of individuals who have done nothing wrong, the law abiding, peaceful citizens who cannot be held responsible for the violent actions of a small minority, possibly acceptable behaviour?

As with mental illness, we always hear about the few people who do something absolutely horrific, not the thousands of other people who just get on with their lives peacefully. I found this great diagram from Anonymous Arabist which illustrates the extent of Muslim terrorism in relation to the religion. I’d like to reiterate the authors disclaimer that she had to enlarge the population of Al Qaeda by ten for it to even show up on the diagram.

Regardless, from the moment I saw that Islamic flag, I knew there would be a backlash against the Muslim communities in Australia. And then something surprising happened.

A young woman on her way home from work saw a Muslim lady, clearly distressed, about to pull her hijab off. She ran after the Muslim lady and told her not to take it off, that she would walk with her if she was scared. Then, first within Sydney, then from around the country came the outpouring of Facebook posts and tweets from people offering support to Muslims, literally offering to ride public transport with them if they were concerned for their safety, and showing solidarity. The hashtag #illridewtihyou was born.

Of course, this kind of social media campaign won’t fix the problem. But it is a step in the right direction. I’m so relieved that in the wake of such a tragedy, there is outstanding recognition that the violence was the result of a single extremist individual, not an entire faith.

To the loved ones of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, who tragically lost their lives, my thoughts and prayers are with you. To the hostages who have gone through a hell I can’t even begin to imagine, I pray for your physical and mental recovery. To the police force, thank you for dealing with such a difficult situation in such a remarkable manner. And to the Muslim communities #illridewithyou

illride

Christmas Dress Up…Doggy Style

So the other day I was looking for something in my Mum’s study. And I came across this somewhat disturbing artifact:

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I may have laughed until I nearly threw up. But once I stopped, I gotta say, it was a bit of a shock. I knew these kind of things existed. You just never expect it to be in your family. 

But then I thought…hey…who am I to judge? Christmas time is the one time of the year where I feel strangely compelled to dress up my dog and take ridiculous photos. It is my Christmas tradition. Piss off the dog. Laugh at the photos. (Relax. No animals are harmed. Monsiour Bark-a-lot is tortured for all of 30 seconds and then given a bone for his troubles). Truth be told I’d probably dress Master D up as well if he was still young enough accept all clothes choices I didn’t give him. Hell, sometimes I even dress myself up. But hey, we won’t go into that. Back to the matter at hand. Dogs.

Sadly, the Monsiour’s traditional reindeer horns (ok. ANTLERS, as Master D always has to correct me) had gone missing. So I lent him my Christmas hat which I thought was exceedingly generous seeing as he probably has fleas, and I probably don’t.

As always, as soon as I put the hat on him he started getting all wild. The situation was not helped by both my Mum’s dogs barking at him and trying to attack him, clearly saying “What the hell, man! Red is NOT your colour!” So, all I got was this photo, where it looks like I’m the handler of some kind of rabid beast with a vaguely disproportionate tail size (Monsiour bark-a-lot would now like to inform you that his tail is both of adequate size and functionality).

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So I asked again nicely. And he was all “Dude…do I HAVE to? This happens every year!”

And I was like “Seriously. Last week during a family dinner you ran away. I chased you for fifteen minutes around the street, in a dress, in full view of our neighbours who I only ever seem to converse with in passing while I am chasing you. You tried to get into someone else’s house. You peed on my neighbours letterbox. It was only when I threw my hands in the air and gave up that you finally returned. Then you barked at the front door to be let in, took a giant dump on the doorstep and ran off again. You owe me one, buddy. Big time.”

So he let me take the photo. Another happy Christmas snap.

I hate you.

I hate you.

But I didn’t stop there. A few days later at Kmart I saw a doggy elf suit for only $5. Which I thought was a bargain, because let’s face it, you can’t put a price on doggy elf suits.

I tried it on, and he actually seemed to kind of like it. He kept proudly stretching with this kind of “come hither” expression on his face. Maybe elf costumes are like the dog version of “suiting up”. So I managed to get this photo of him, which, if you could see under his killer eyebrows, you would notice him staring serenely into middle distance.

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Of course I did find him later trying to maul the costume in a particularly vicious manner. So who knows what dogs think.

Happy Holidays from the slightly eccentric Finding My Sunshine family!

In Hospital…or In Hiding?

It’s funny, because although no one would ever question a hospitalisation for physical illness, inpatient treatment for mental illness – and for that matter rehab for drug/alcohol addiction – can often come under scrutiny. There is a school of thought that while hospitalisation may be beneficial in the short term, at the end of the day us crazies or drug addicts have to return to the real world, stop hiding out, and deal with the problem.

And yeah this is true. I get that. I have little doubt that there are people out there who, particularly in the case of mental illness, prefer being in hospital to being at home. I met a few. They were basically homeless and hospital offered them a sanctuary. In hospital you are freed from responsibilities. You don’t have to work. You get your meals cooked for you. You get a bed and someone changes your sheets and cleans the toilet. Just like with jail, where offenders break parole to get back inside, institutionalisation is a real thing, and a real problem for some people.

But, you’ve got to understand, when you are in hospital you lose your basic rights. Privacy for starters. Ever tried going to the toilet with a nurse watching you? Had to point out the diagram (on a seven point scale, with one being “you’re never gonna pass those rocks” and seven being “basically a puddle of brown water”) that best illustrates your latest bowel movement? Had absolutely no choice as to what instruments are poked into your various orafices? Whether you are hospitalised for physical reasons or mental reasons you become property of the medical system. And that ain’t fun.

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While you are in hospital you have to put up with a lot of shit. Sharing rooms with people who snore or basically don’t understand what a toilet flush is. Eating reconstituted crap for dinner. Other people’s noisy visitors. People stealing the food you store in the patient fridge. Getting no choice as to what to watch on TV. Only getting to see your loved ones at certain times of the day. Having your clothes and possessions confiscated.

If all that is better than being at home, everyday life has got to be pretty damn hard. The two times I was hospitalised because I ASKED to be hospitalised, life WAS extremely hard. Both times I fought and fought for months, eventually realised that I was going to get extremely unwell or possibly do some damage to myself, and asked for inpatient treatment. It was a last ditch effort. It didn’t occur to me that I could be hiding from life. I just wanted to get better, and hospitalisation was my final option, so I COULD get back to my life.

For each of my hospitalisations, whether for physical or mental reasons, I have been admitted because I was not well enough to cope without 24/7 care, and I was released when I was well enough to care for myself. Whether I was an inpatient for bipolar disorder, the delivery of a newborn, ovarian torsion, surgery, or my autoimmune disease is irrelevant. Whether I stayed for 24 hours of nearly half a year is irrelevant. Each of those times I needed care. I received it. Then I went home. Most of those times I had little choice. All of those times I did not want to be in hospital, and left as soon as I was medically fit.

For each of my hospitalisations, whether for physical or mental reasons, I have also had to go back into the real world, learn to dress my wounds by myself, remember to take my medication, stop lying in bed all day, and continue my recovery on my own. I knew this and I accepted this. And for each of those occasions I was practically begging my doctors to be released.

But this is my personal experience, and I know everyone is different. I do understand where people are coming from when they question the value of hospitalisation, in particular long term hospitalisation. It is not a natural environment. It isn’t an ideal situation.

However, hospitalisation for any illness is less than ideal. For patient comfort, to retain some semblance of a normal life, and, yes, due to the strain on the health system, outpatient treatment for all illnesses is always preferred. But sometimes people need more than outpatient treatment. And the choice (or the un-choice) of being admitted into a psychiatric facility, or going into rehab to kick your drug habit, should be respected in the same manner as physical hospitalisations are.

While I was in the mother and baby unit, I voiced these issues to a nurse. I told her that I was worried that people would think I was just “hiding” from the real world. I didn’t want people to think less of me for receiving inpatient psychiatric care.

She just laughed and told me “Rachael. You’re not in Club Med. You’re in hospital.  You’re REALLY REALLY sick, and we are helping you get better. You NEED to be here. Just like you would NEED to be in hospital if you had appendicitis. And they are not going to let you go until we know you will be safe.”

For me, personally, hospitalisation, being torn away from my family, giving up my rights and freedom, and being subject to unpleasant tests and experiences is pretty high on my list of Things I Like To Avoid. But in saying that, despite my complaining, my hospitalisations for mental illness have saved my life. And for that I will be ever thankful.

What is your opinion of psychiatric hospitalisations?

Death By Chia Seeds

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So recently, in an attempt to get my physical health under control I’ve gone all uber health freak on my autoimmune disease’s ass.

Raw food. Yep. Quinoa. Yep. Gluten free. Yep. Cutting out all (ok. MOST) packaged foods, caffeine and alcohol. Yep. Making bread. Yep. Milling grains. Yep. You may mock, but it’s pretty much the only control I feel I have over my disease. And I don’t do well when I feel I have no control. AND I feel a whole lot better doing it. Physically the eosinophil infiltration in my gut have gone down. “Keep up the diet!” my immunologist told me. So I shall.

Anyhoo, so the other day I was really craving a chocolate milkshake, so decided to make the next best thing: a raw cacao and banana smoothie. Now I don’t have the best record with smoothies. Sure, they are super healthy for most people. But for me, no matter whether they are green, berry, banana, or cacao, I always seem to end up praying to the porcelain Gods for approximately 48 hours after consumption.

The smoothie of doom.

The smoothie of doom.

Did this stop me? No.

The recipe called for a large number of chia seeds, unsoaked, which was kinda weird. But hey, I’m all for trying new things.  I made the stupid smoothie. Took a sip, and almost immediately my tongue and lips started itching and burning.

Hmmm. That’s weird. I thought, trying to SCRATCH my tongue. Never had a tongue itch before. Then I turned the page in my book and in a rather regrettably cavalier fashion took another sip.

The burning got worse, and now even my ears started to feel like they were on fire. Clearly I like to live dangerously so I took another sip.

Then my tongue started swelling up, and I completely flipped out.

Oh my God! I’m having an allergic reaction! My airways are going to get blocked and I’m going to DIE! I randomly ran around the kitchen. Why. I’m not quite sure.

I tried to contact my Mum. Naturally when I called her number, I heard her phone ringing right next to me. Next I sent Hubster a message asking whether he thought I was having an allergic reaction. He suggested it might be hay fever (probably so not to panic me, which didn’t work because news flash: I was panicked). I gave up on Hubster. He wasn’t any use anyway as he was working in the city and I knew he would never get home in time to administer CPR or call a coroner or whatever it was that I was going to need.

I really didn’t know what to do. I have plenty of allergies/intolerances but they tend to affect my gastrointestinal system, not my mouth. So I sat back in an armchair and thought. So, this is how it ends.

Luckily at that moment my Mum arrived. Almost simultaneously my tongue swelling started to go down. I felt a bit silly for the terror I had felt, and was actually pretty glad no one was around to witness my freak out. With venom I chucked out the rest of my smoothie, and went upstairs to lie down.

Then the vomiting started. Then the unbearable pain. I cannot begin to even describe the pain I feel when I eat something I cannot tolerate. But lets just go ahead with BAD. Mum came up with a glass of water and I told her I think I had had an allergic reaction to chia seeds and begrudgingly admitted that I may need to see a doctor.

Just for future note. If you ever want to get in to see your GP super quickly tell them you are having an allergic reaction. They will tell you to go to hospital, but once you convince them that that isn’t going to happen, they will take you in immediately, and you will even get to go and lie down in a germ infested bed as opposed to the germ infested waiting room.

The first thing I asked for was a vomit bag. Then a maxalon injection. My GP came in to see me, the GP who knows ALL about my health troubles. And she was all “Hello Rachael…what have you eaten now?”

“It was the damn chia seeds!” I told her.

“Chia seeds. That’s unusual!” She said.

“Everything about me is unusual!”

They wanted to give me an anti-histamine injection but couldn’t because of the Lithium. Which is pretty much the story of my life. So I had to lay in the bed for ages under observation, listening to an old guy in the bed next to me getting some sort of abscess cut out of his ear.

I must have looked pretty bad at one point because I had the nurse and doctor hovering over me. And the nurse was saying “Rachael? Are you still with us?” I didn’t want to tell them that I was actually trying to meditate, the way I did in labour, to get myself through the pain, and their questions were TOTALLY DISTRACTING ME. So I just muttered a grumpy “Yes. I’m still here.”

After a designated amount of time, Mum and I left the practice, me barely able to walk and clutching the vomit bag. On the way home, without a whole lot of warning, I puked into the bag, which was all very well and good except the BAG HAD A HOLE IN IT. Now what kind of bag, with the sole design of containing vomit, has a hole in it?! I’m not sure I have ever vomited that much in my life. And believe me. I’m no stranger to the power spew. The holey bag was becoming a major issue.

Mum started winding down the windows and laughing (which she later told me was awkward laughter but at the time felt a trifle unsympathetic), and because I always get the giggles at inappropriate moments too I started laughing. It is almost impossible to laugh and spew at the same time. It was not a pretty sight.

We got home and since I was covered in vomit I was chucked out of the car to dispose of my vomit bag before coming in. I seized the opportunity to throw up in the hedge. I then spent the rest of the evening rolling around in agony and rushing to the toilet.

So, lesson learned. No chia seeds. No smoothies. And if your mouth starts getting itchy after eating, just stop (no matter how good it tastes).

Chia seeds 1: Rachael: 0.