I did it! And I didn’t CoC it up.

I’ve been distinctly absent from the ‘blogosphere’ over the last few months. It has been an interesting ride.

So I went back to the PhD and within the first six months you have to complete what they call your “Confirmation of Candidature” (or CoC as we PhD’s call it. Hubster, being the mature adult he is thought our term CoC was hilarious. It all started when I accidentally sent him an email meant for my supervisor where the first sentence was: “I’m concerned that my CoC is too long. Can you please give it a look and see what you think”.)

Anyway. I didn’t realise  the CoC it was such a big thing (heh.) until I would tell people in the office what I was doing and they would be all “Eeeee” with a strangled look on their faces, before regailing me with some kind of horror story from their own CoC. Then they would try and save it by saying “Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fine though.” Kind of like the last weeks of your pregnancy where everyone around you seems to have had a near death experience during labour.

So what is a CoC?. This is basically where you complete a long literature review and research proposal on your topic. Mine is a few thousand words off my Honours thesis. And it is pure blood, sweat and tears. Literally. I gave myself a paper cut on the damn thing.

So after writing the document you then to do a big presentation to the research board, all the faculty and grad students within the school attend as well. You yabber on about your topic and then everyone asks questions. There are three outcomes of this. You get through and are now officially a PhD Candidate. You get kicked out of the PhD program. Or you are asked to make some changes and once they are done you get through.

So basically I have been working full pelt on this stuff. Hubster and I were basically a tag team. I worked weekends for extra time. It was hard not spending time with my family, especially after I was away so much last year in hospital. I felt I was being pulled apart in different directions (the way, I’m sure many parents feel). It has not been easy.

One of my more relaxing Sundays…:)

One of my more relaxing Sundays…:)

Firstly, I had six months to complete this milestone. Problem is I completed three months. Got sick. Ended up in hospital forever. Had ECT. Returned in January to realise that because of my short term memory problems associated with the ETC…I HAD FORGOTTEN IT ALL!

The horror.

So I basically had to start again. Reread all these notes and diagrams I had made and try to make sense of it all. I now, basically, had 3 months to complete this task.

But of course, I have a three year old. I have very limited childcare. I was trying to achieve in three days a week, what other people achieve in five. Which is why I gave up and started working weekends, grabbing any extra time I could.

Then of course, I have two chronic illnesses that like to make themselves known occasionally. I have had flare ups. I am under the care of four different hospitals and have appointments with each. More time down the drain.

All in all it was a bit of disaster, and at times I felt like everything that could possibly prevent me from doing this PhD was happening. Maybe it was a sign? Maybe I should just give it up.

But one of my greatest assets and sometimes biggest downfalls, is that I am incredibly stubborn. I persist until the bitter end. I ignore people who tell me that is ok to give up. This can be a good thing, or a very bad thing.

So I continued. I worked my arse off. I took on board every ounce of feedback from my supervisors. I wrote a document I was damn proud of. I spent ages designing my presentation and then practicing it over and over again (alarming fellow grads who walked into the office to find me talking to myself). Then the day before my presentation, I stopped myself. I had done enough. There is nothing more I can do.

On the morning of the presentation Hubster very kindly made me breakfast and took Master D to daycare. On the way out he waved and called out “Don’t CoC it up!” Then I went….and I did it.

I stood up in front of all these academics that I greatly respect. The entire school. The research board. And I told them why I think we need to address mental illness stigma in the community. I talked about the complicated theoretical backing behind my design.  I told them how I wanted to achieve change. And, it really surprised me, but I loved doing it.

And I got some awesome feedback. My study design was “fascinating”, and “well thought out”. There were a few questions, but nothing major, and certainly nothing intimidating.

After I returned to my desk and found email upon email from people congratulating me which was so sweet. After the presentation the board have a big meeting to determine whether I am able to continue with my PhD (until you have achieved this milestone you are probationary). This process can take up to a week. I have heard it taking up to a month.

Within ten minutes I got a phone call saying that I was through (informally). A few minor budget adjustments and then I’m set to go.

I don’t often say this, but I am really proud of myself. After everything that has happened…I went back. I achieved what I wanted to do. I stuck with it. And from what everyone has been telling me…I did damn well.

My supervisor told me that a lot of people would have given up in my circumstances. And no one would have blamed them.

But I didn’t give up.

I did it!

This whole thing has been a confidence booster. And not just on the academic side.
I have proved to myself that I can fall down hard… and pick myself up again.

A year ago I was hooked up to a urinary catheter, in a psych ward, under involuntary status, pushing around an IV pole. I was completely dependant, psychologically and physically. I couldn’t even pee on my own.

A year on and I have learned to manage both of my illnesses. I get up every morning. I sleep every night. I earn an income. I achieved a major body of work. Hell, I can even pee by myself.

I did it. I came back. I have rebuilt my life.

And I didn’t CoC it up 🙂

The “Diet” that Changed My Life

Today I’m going to tell you about the “diet” that changed my life.

Before I started my “diet” I was incredibly ill. I have an autoimmune condition which basically results in my immune system going nuts and having allergic reactions to a number of foods. I also suffered extreme gastrointestinal pain, frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea, constant fevers, bone and joint pain, headaches and excessive fatigue. Even after I was discharged from hospital I felt like crap. It was like having the flu every day of my life. And that was a distinct improvement. I was on SEVENTEEN medications. My white blood count was terrible. My mental health was affected, because feeling like absolute crap every day of your life and being unable to function does that to you.

There was no relief. Nothing I did helped. I was popping pain killers like tic tacs. My immunologist was starting to talk about putting me back on steroids (which, last time made me rampantly psychotic), or – worse – hardcore immunosuppresants that are traditionally used for cancer patients, and would leave me even more vulnerable to illness and infection than I already was. Something had to change.

So I started a diet.

I say “diet” because it isn’t really a “diet”. To me, “dieting” conjures images of cabbage soup, unrelenting hunger, and feeling deeply miserable. I’ve been on diets before. This wasn’t like that.

My aim wasn’t to lose weight. Don’t’ get me wrong – the weight I have lost in the last few months has been a welcome side effect. But I made the change to better my health, and to better my health alone.

I researched a number of different “diets’; Paleo, LCHF, GAPS, Raw, all that kind of stuff. But there were restrictions, and aspects of the diets that I didn’t like. So I made my own rules.

I used my common sense. I figured that if it grows on trees, you can dig it out of the ground, or comes from an animal it’s probably good for you. If it comes in brightly coloured packaging and the second ingredient is “sugar”, probably not so much. So, after many hours of research on nutrition, and spending an inordinate amount of time in the supermarket, no doubt pissing everyone off, while I examined ingredient lists, I completely changed my way of eating.

Here’s what I did.

– Obviously I started by cutting out all foods I knew I had allergic reactions/ intolerances to. I’d have to be pretty stupid not to.

– I decided that consuming excessive refined sugar was not going to help my physical or mental health. There are many links between sugar and physical and mental illness. So I reduced it. I didn’t “quit” sugar – as so many people proclaim, because I eat various forms of unrefined sugar – for example the fructose in fruit (personally I feel that the fibre content and nutritional value of fruit far out weighs the supposed badassness of fructose). But I swapped cane sugar for coconut palm/stevia/honey in cooking. I stopped eating so much crap. I drunk water instead of juice. But on the other hand I didn’t deprive myself either. If I go out for dinner and there is the possibility of ice cream afterwards. You bet, I’m ordering it. And I feel no guilt. This is a long term project, and I don’t believe it is sustainable without the odd treat. To me, the occasional special treat is very different to the mindless eating of junk that I was doing regularly.

– I stopped buying processed food and made it myself. When I began looking closely at supermarket products, I was absolutely horrified at how much sugar/additives/preservatives are added to foods. Most things I make nowadays are from scratch – stocks, dressings, yogurt, muesli bars, sauces etc. But again, if I’m busy and don’t have the time to culture a yogurt I buy some, I just make sure it is good quality. The aim is to improve my health, not make it worse through stress.

– I cut down on some forms of dairy ( I can tolerate cheese and yogurt better than milk). I’ve always been sensitive to dairy, so this was nothing new. I started making my own nut rice milks to cut down on the expense.

– I don’t buy “low fat”, or “diet” anything. Low fat foods are higher in sugar, and diet foods/drinks are high in chemicals. Despite the hype, your body does need (good) fat to survive. I’m full fat all the way

– I very rarely, if ever, eat fast food/convenience food. This is especially easy for me as I am actually allergic/intolerant of most fast foods.

– I eat “real” fresh looking foods. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Grains I can tolerate – such as quinoa. Good quality cuts of meat.

My favourite salad - Broccoli, carrot, red onion, apple, yogurt and lemon juice.

My favourite salad – Broccoli, carrot, red onion, apple, yogurt and lemon juice.

– I use Olive Oil and Coconut Oil for cooking instead of vegetable oil.

Bacon and homemade hash brown cooked in coconut oil.

Bacon and homemade hash brown cooked in coconut oil.

– I give myself treats. But I make them myself, and I try to make them as healthy as possible. For example .. raw desserts. Some may say that they are are calorific, or contain a lot of oils. I say they are made from whole foods, contain no refined sugar or preservatives. They fill you up and satisfy your sweet craving. All in moderation, obviously, but if you are going to have something sweet – it’s probably better than eating your weight in Reeces Pieces.

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Mango coconut “cheesecake”

– I don’t let myself go hungry. Unlike the starvation diets of my former years, if I am hungry I eat. I have three meals and several snacks a day, and I never feel deprived.

– I cut out caffeine, and alcohol (apart from on special occasions).

So I did all this – and I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was hoping to improve my fatigue. I certainly didn’t expect the major impact that simply eating good quality food has had on my health.

– I no longer have gut pain. Any. At all. (Well, unless I eat something on my allergy list). This is HUGE for me, as I have lived with chronic pain for a long time.

– I can keep my food down…and up. Hells to the yeah!

– I have come off FIFTEEN of my medications. And I am currently cutting out another.

– I no longer have fevers, joint or bone pain. I don’t catch every cold that goes around.

– My headaches have disappeared.

– A plantar wart I had on my foot completely disappeared. I had had this wart for 10 years and tried every treatment you can imagine. It was like a goddamn miracle.

– My hair is lovely and shiny and I’ve stopped bruising so easily

– I have energy. I wake up early, sleep well, and never feel tired during the day.

– My concentration is now awesome.

– All my food cravings have gone.

-I am no longer having panic attacks. I don’t feel remotely depressed. I have no psychosis. I’m generally cheerful and look forward to the future. I have been able to come off a lot of my psychiatric medication.

– I lost 9kgs (about 20lbs) fairly rapidly. Without restricting. Without really trying.

So, for me, this “diet” was the best thing I have ever done. I’m certainly not cured by any means. But I can manage my conditions, and I now have control over something that controlled me, put me in hospital, and very nearly broke me. This knowledge, in itself, is so important for my mental health. Next week I see my immunologist. At my last appointment, a few months ago, I cried and told him that I couldn’t keep going like this. This time, I can go back and say “no” to the steroids and immunosuppresants.

I got this. 🙂

The Tooth that Broke Me

Living with a chronic illness is a lonely thing.

Because you are constantly unwell, you are socially isolated. Especially when you have an illness that no one has heard of. And because you don’t have that magic hospital bracelet on, people forget you are still unwell. I forget I am still unwell. “Get over it already!” I feel like screaming when those familiar pangs of nausea start. Sheesh.

I try not to complain. I really do. Because there are so many people out there much worse off than I am. So many people out there who would give their right arm to be sitting at home with their family. I don’t feel I have the right to complain. I have a future ahead of me. Many people don’t.

But yesterday, as I was resting on the couch I noticed my bad tooth felt funny. My bad tooth has been a niggling annoyance for some years now, (thanks to an incompetent dentist who botched a root canal), accompanied by a permanent abscess that will apparently cost in the vicinity of fifteen grand to resolve. Despite the small fortune we fork out for private health insurance, it is never actually seems to cover anything, to the point where I seriously considered a life a la Breaking Bad.

image

Anyway. I looked in the mirror and was horrified to see that part of my tooth had fallen off. IT WAS GONE. I hadn’t even felt it move. WHAT THE HELL WAS GOING ON?! ‘t felt like one of those nightmares you have when all your teeth fall out – except it was actually happening. Shit just got real.

And then I broke. I’ve been through surgery, opioid, benzo and SSRI drug withdrawal, unmentionable physical examinations, countless medical procedures, electro convulsive therapy for Christ’s sake. But it was the tooth that broke me. I cried and cried, partly over the fear of treatment since, quite frankly, I would rather harvest my organs than go to the dentist. Partly through fear of the cost. And partly through the fear that I would  end up looking like a hobo.

I cried in a pathetic heap. Telling The Hubster that “I just couldn’t do this anymore.” I’d had a gut full. Enough was enough. Then, at the least opportune moment, The Hubster received a work phone call and disappeared to fix some IT thing. So that was kind of awkward.

While he was gone I tried to pull myself together. I got out my iPad and started looking up pictures of baboons. Because that always makes me laugh.

baboon
Moving on.

I eventually stopped crying. Repeated my mantra of “it could always be worse”. I fantasised on packing my family in the car and just driving off somewhere. Anywhere. Then my escape plans were thwarted by remembering that we live in the most isolated city on earth. And also I can’t run away from my tooth. Or my illness.

Then The Hubster came back and told me how I was reacting was “normal” (if there is such a thing). That it is better to let my feelings out than to hold them inside. Depression is often described as anger directed inwards. I had been feeling so unjustified in “complaining”, that I had been, unknowingly, keeping it all locked inside.

So here I am. Another day, another challenge. I live day to day. Sometimes hour to hour, or minute to minute. I count my blessings, and thank the universe for the people in my life who DO understand. There is only one way forward, and that IS forward. But most importantly, I give myself permission to cry. To grieve. To get angry everything that has happened. To curse my diagnosis. And my experiences.

And that goddamn tooth.

Some Days are Better than Others…

And they really are.

Some days I wake up, refreshed, positive, ready to attack the world. I clean and cook and…hell…even look at the work I have done such far on my PhD.

Then there are days like today.

I’m sore. My stomach hurts. I have gastrointestinal cramping. I’ve got dreadful sciatica down the back of my right leg after an attempt at weeding. My hands and feet have swollen up like balloons – an edema allegedly caused by one of my medications. I can taste blood in my mouth. I notice, more than other days, my hair falling out for no other reason other than how unhealthy I am. My skin is patchy, bruised and refuses to heal. I wear track pants because I still can’t bear the feel of anything around my waist. I’m dog tired, and have set up Master D in front of Finding Nemo, because I just can’t face any noise. And what gets me the most is that I am stuck at home, feeling like crap, while everyone else seems to be out there getting on with their lives and doing SOMETHING. Anything!

But….and this is a big BUT….I am home. With my family. In my own bed. I’m not psychotic or suicidal or even depressed. I have had visiting nurses for the past fortnight and they finished up today. A recent blood test showed my eosinophil count has gone down (still twice as much as normal, but better than four times the norm!). Things are, slowly, moving in the right direction. Touch wood.

I just need to learn to accept the bad days. There will be bad days. I can’t expect to spend nearly five months in hospital and then come home brand spanking new. It’s that dreadful period of convalescence, where you want independence and normality, but you are just not quite there yet.

Each day I try to count my blessings, because the reality is that while I am living my life someone else out there is fighting for theirs. I have a roof over my head and a wonderfully supportive network of family and friends. My body and mind are healing, even if it is frustratingly slowly. And I do have a future. A future outside of a psychiatric facility – which is more than I can say for some of the other patients in there.

Today is a hard day, but maybe tomorrow will be better.

You think that I’m strong…

You’re wrong.

A number of people close to me have commented that i am strong, or resilient, having gone through what i have. Does the mere fact that I have been through a lot of shit make me strong? I don’t think so. On a locked ward I had little choice over my survival, and it is easy to put on an automatic front for visitors.

What would you do if You saw me a my worst. Sobbing on my bed, self injurious and suicidal. What if you saw me talking to people who don’t exist, or running from Security guards. What if you heard me tell my doctor I can’t keep going, or saw the enormous bag of medications that I am unwillingly addicted to. Would you still think I am strong?

Would you still believe me to be strong when you saw that I have been so physically unwell for so long that I can barely walk down the hospital hall without becoming close to collapse. What about if you realized that I had left my family for over four months, fought against medical staff, and wake up screaming from nightmares. How about if you knew that I lost my memory to the extent that I forgot significant life events and dates. I can’t drive and I still can’t remember how to get to my office.

I have lost the trust of loved ones, my memory, and my dignity. I am filled with shame and regret.

You think that I’m strong. You’re wrong, wrong, wrong.