What if I say I will never surrender?

Well, hey there.

Here I am.

It’s been a while so I will play catch up tonight, before writing about the more pressing things I have had on my mind.

A large part of why I have not been writing is that I have been in the throws of fertility treatment (which really deserves its own special place in hell). In between hormones and appointments and stress I haven’t had the emotional capacity to write. Though, lord knows I have tried.

Over the past few months I have learned again and again, that my body is doing it wrong. I am running out of eggs. My immune system is killing pregnancies. I have endometriosis. Ovarian cysts. Polyps. “Doctors appointment” to me, is synonymous with “Doom”.

On the plus side I now know more about human reproduction than I ever anticipated. So ya know, if I ever get a chance to go on Who Wants to be a Millionaire and there happens to be a question on zygote development or hormone production; I may be in with a chance for the big bucks. Don’t worry. I won’t let it change me.

One of the more interesting aspects of my treatment is the intralipids. Basically once a month I go into hospital for the day to have an IV of some soy/egg concoction. I am banned from taking steroids (according to my immunologist) due to the whole rampant psychosis thing. So the intralipid treatment is another way to suppress my immune system to allow a pregnancy to progress. Apparently anyway.

Intralipid infusion. 20 minutes after the nurse 'tissued' me, and my hand blew up like a balloon (which sadly, I don't have a photo of).

Intralipid infusion. 20 minutes after the nurse ’tissued’ me, and my hand blew up like a balloon (which sadly, I don’t have a photo of).

I also had a laparascopy surgery to treat my endometriosis, which wasn’t too bad. I have a history of waking up like a wild combative beast after a general anaesthetic, so my anaesthetist told me she was going to sedate me before I woke up. It must have worked because when I woke up there was no sign of a struggle, and my nurse seemed uncharacteristically relaxed.

One thing that really struck me was how NICE the nurses were. I’m used to nurses barking at me or being profoundly unsympathetic. After my hernia reconstruction (which was a fairly large operation that I spent a total of 7 days on a surgical ward for) I had the audacity to ask a nurse for some painkillers. I was told – in a rather snippy tone – that I HAD to expect SOME pain, and was very reluctant to offer me relief. I was an involuntary psychiatric patient at the time, with my own psychiatric nurse, and I half wonder if she thought I also had some sort of substance abuse problem as well. But even if I did; 24 hours post open surgery you hurt. You need painkillers.

Anyway, this time, during the night after surgery I was in a lot of pain. I left it for about three hours before, out of desperation, I pressed the call button and waited to be told off. Instead this lovely nurse came, and looked at my chart and dosed me with oxycodene in a rather maternal manner. I promptly got high (which was odd as I used to take the stuff 3 times daily and never felt remotely stoned) and then fell asleep. My sheets were changed. I was spoken to in a respectful manner. I was given options not orders. I was not a psychiatric patient, nor was my psychiatric history deemed particularly relevant. I was treated better. It’s hard not to make assumptions.

Of course, things never run smoothly in our household. So a few nights after the surgery Hubster and I woke to Master D coughing in an exceedingly ominous manner in our bedroom. Seconds later he threw up. Fifteen minutes later he hurled again. Master D climbed into bed with Hubster, and in an effort of self preservation I escaped to the couch – because gastro after abdominal surgery? HELL NO. But the damage was done, and we all went down with a despicable, no doubt Kindy acquired, stomach bug.

In the middle of everything I started to feel very negative about everything. I felt like we had too much on our plate. I had too many appointments. Too many health concerns. Every week I seemed to spend most of my time in hospitals or doctors waiting rooms. I felt drained.

So when Hubster announced he was going to Sydney on business I booked tickets, packed bags for Master D and I, took some of my annual leave and went with him. It was the most wonderful week spending quality time with Master D, seeing the sights of Sydney, and getting the hell away from everything that was going on. Only marred by reacting to some food, getting sick, and then having dreadful anxiety problems. Because autoimmune diseases never take holidays.

When we got back I saw my psychiatrist who put my back on Seroquel for the interim. I hadn’t slept properly in weeks, was having constant panic attacks, and was getting more and more unhinged. The med change seemed to help and I began sleeping again and my anxiety has subsided somewhat.

So here I am again. Just about to start another round of fertility treatment. Fighting to keep my autoimmune disease and mental health stable. Juggling a plethora of appointments. Trying to fit in a full time PhD and part time work in the mix.

I’m doing ok.

Each day at a time.

It takes a lot for me to surrender.

On Confidence: Wearing a Witch’s Costume and Owning It

When I was about seven, we had our annual school concert coming up. Now, you have to understand, these concerts were HUGE. Our school was big on the performing arts, and had a theatre so large and sophisticated that it was routinely used for community events. Our annual school concert involved performances from every grade, and every parent, grandparent, or associated family figure came to watch.

Anyway, somehow I got it into my head that I needed to dress up as a witch for our performance. To be fair, I think the song was about a witches cauldron, so it is (a vaguely) a plausible conclusion. It may also be that we were told to “dress up”, which presumably meant to look nice, but for me somehow translated to “dress up as a witch”. I was also a bit of a “show off” as my family fondly remind me, who loved to sing, perform and dress up. Once, during a particularly solemn and quiet part of a catholic wedding ceremony, I asked my father whether I should get up and do a dance in the aisle to entertain everyone. So, it is also entirely possible that I just wanted to crack open the costumes.

Luckily for me we lived in a small town in Norway, in a community which, due to the oil industry and resident NATO base, was largely American. In line with American tradition, Halloween was one of the biggest events of the year, and consequently I had every Halloween costume you could imagine. Including (drum roll here) a witch’s costume.

This costume was fairly elaborate. Head to toe in black cloak. A waist length grey streaked black wig. An enormous pointy hat. And the crème de la creme, a prosthetic warty hook nose. As I got dressed on the day of the concert, I looked, if I do say so myself, pretty frigging amazing.

We drove to the school, and to the absolute horror and dismay of my parents every single other child was dressed in their Sunday best. White shirts, black pants, fresh clean faces, polished shoes. And then me. The witch with the prosthetic nose.

My teacher saw me and came over and without batting an eyelid said. “Oh wow! Look at you! You look great!”

Mum, dying inside, hurridly said “I’m so sorry, there must have been a misunderstanding…I’ll take her home get her changed!”

My teacher, being the laid back, chilled American woman she was, waved her hand “Oh no, don’t worry about it. Look at her! She looks awesome!” before breezing off to greet someone else. To be fair. I did look awesome.

So that is how I ended up on stage at the annual concert dressed as a witch.

I sung my little heart out, beaming from ear to ear. I was as happy as a king (or, ya know, a witch) and seemingly completely oblivious to the fact that I was wearing slightly different attire to everyone else. Halfway through the performance, some backstage guy came up to me and told me to take my hat off because they couldn’t see the kids behind me. I was cool with that. I mean, I still had the wig.

For my parents, in the audience, it was slightly different. As my class trooped up on stage there was lots of murmurs and whispers, and then a little girl voiced what everyone else was thinking: “But why is that girl dressed as a witch?” Sadly I don’t have a photo I can show you of my big moment. It is one of the great tragedies of my childhood that my parents didn’t take a photo or video of the event.

On the way home my parents tentatively asked me how I thought it all went. “Oh it went well.” I told them. “But I was the ONLY one who BOTHERED to dress up!”

And that, my friends, is confidence.

A decade later, I lost all confidence completely. An angsty teenager, with a diagnosis of mental illness. I was so concerned with my image, what people thought of me, whether I was “good” enough. I used to call my friends before going out to check what they were wearing. Change my outfit about a million times, and then still feel like crap when I went out. Although I knew the answers, I was afraid to speak in class, purely because I didn’t want to bring attention to myself. I analyzed the behavior of others to a ridiculous degree. Were they talking about me? Do they like me? Have I done something wrong?

This anxiety about life went on for a long time. I strived for perfection, but never seemed to achieve it. Each award I won, opportunity I received, I was sure that it was a mistake and I was some sort of imposter. When I was offered a PhD scholarship, I kept thinking of reasons why the board had made the wrong decision. I got incredibly nervous talking to my academic superiors, and expressing my views and ideas. Because they were talented and had spent decades in the industry doing amazing things. What could I, a lowly research student, possibly add of value? I hated my body. I felt completely inferior to every human being on earth. I was frightened to complain about service, to make phone calls to unknown people. I let others walk over me. It probably didn’t help matters that I was constantly hearing voices that told me I was inadequate and “bad”.

Last year, after being released from hospital, I just kind of gave up on it all. I had been in hospital for five months, I had a serious mental illness, I had had ECT, and EVERYONE AREOUND ME KNEW. I wasn’t perfect. That was well established. One day, like an epiphany, I distinctly remember saying to myself; “Fuck it. I’m ok with who I am. If other people aren’t, that’s their deal. I can’t do this anymore.” And I started to like myself.

Now, I’m completely ok with the fact that I have mental illness. I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops. I don’t let it define me – as I am a bunch of other things aside from “bipolar”. But if someone asks me about it, I will talk to them.

I’m ok with the way I look. Sure we all have off days, but I don’t spend hours scrutinizing myself in the mirror, and I wear what I want to wear.

My relationships have improved. I don’t feel needy or walked over. I am more assertive. I have so much more free time now I am not obsessing over every little detail. I recognize that I will never please some people, and I have made peace with that. That’s their loss.

I’m more assertive when it comes to service. I am not afraid to ask for what I want, and (politely) complain if it is not to standard. I don’t ask Hubster to call people up. I say “excuse me” to people who are standing in my way, instead of awkwardly standing there like some weird stalker, waiting for them to get off the phone and move.

Increased confidence has had an impact on my PhD. I feel comfortable talking to my superiors. I ask lots of questions, because that is what I am supposed to do. I’m not SUPPOSED to know everything yet. It is my JOB to learn. I play like a scientist and look at the evidence; positive feedback, awards, an elite scholarship. I worked hard and have been rewarded. I no longer feel like an imposter.

And I write what I want to in this blog. I tell my story, like it is. I give my opinion, how I see it. I don’t spend hours writing a post, then suddenly feel complete paranoia in posting it in case someone doesn’t like it, or thinks I am stupid. It’s the internet. There’s always going to be strange people. But the way I see it, this is my blog, my story, and I am not forcing anyone to read. The amazing thing is that I have had a huge increase in followers – over 600 on WordPress (you guys are awesome!)!!! What’s more, the wonderful people who read and interact with my blog are so incredibly supportive and kind. Thank you for being you!

I guess what I am trying to say is that I am not perfect – and that’s the whole point. I still have, as I suspect everyone does, days where I lose confidence in myself. And that’s ok. It’s when lack of confidence controls your life that it is an issue. Sometimes when I feel unsure I think about that little girl in the witches costume. After I have finished laughing to the point of weeping, I smile and try and channel her confidence. Because if you can go on stage randomly dressed as a witch in front of 500 or so people and totally own it, you can do pretty much anything.