Short post: atheism, kids, diwali and my nursing studies

I'm kinda joking with that 'short' part, but considering almost all the big life issues are jammed into the post title, and some of them are somewhat contradictory it will be short. You will be pleased to know I don't have anything to say about politics today.

Have I mentioned before about how I sort of consider myself an atheist Hindu (atheist first, Hindu second)? It came about when the wise Punditji who performed our wedding ceremony telling me, when I mentioned I was an atheist, that the Hindus 'have room' for that but the Christians probably didn't. It's only relevant because I am still trying to work out how to talk about religion with my kids. There is nothing better able to to joyfully force one to consider one's own position on difficult issues than trying to explain where you stand to some bright and inquisitive school kids. In this case I was explaining to Asher why we celebrate Diwali ( AKA Deepavali and other spellings and pronunciations. translating Sanskrit into the various Indian languages and then into words that can be spoken in English is tricky). We bought some lottery tickets to give to Sanjay and his dad as Diwali gifts and a lovely candle for Sanjay's mother.

It also seemed to be a good time to talk about the bigger meanings of the festival, so I reminded him of the two stories I know about Diwali, both familiar to him from 'Amma tell me about Diwali' by B. Mathur. One of the stories sees the goddess coming into the home of a poor woman, working late even on a festival day, and granting her wealth. The other story, the main story, is from the Ramayana and describes people lighting lamps to welcome their banished King and Queen home after fourteen years in exile (er, that was... brief. It's a massive, intense, tragic, brilliant epic!). I was trying to think through appropriate ways to talk about the meaning of these stories as I was talking to Asher and I came to the idea that they are both about shining a light on the path of right - either in terms of personal hard work or using the ancient city of Ayodhya as a metaphor for self and the lights help to lead us to 'right action' - whatever right action looks like to us.

Which brings me, neatly, back to my nursing course. People keep asking me how my course is going; everyone from the crossing supervisor at the kids' school through to my family and my therapist mentions it and for sure sometimes it's just politeness but often people want to really know about the course and how I'm feeling about it, and wondering if I'm going to enjoy clinical nursing. I generally answer with a flippant comment about being busy, stressed or the fact that I've just finished first your again (!) and sometimes I go to say 'I should have done it years ago' but the reality is slightly more difficult to talk about. I feel like whether I enjoy it or not is almost irrelevant. I am fulfilling my dharma. I am on my path. The course is tough, tougher than my first degree and although I don't have the memory I did then I am wiser. I still agonize over my assignments. But whatever stress and drama it causes me, I am where I'm meant to be. I don't think I should have done nursing straight out of school - my dad was very well known in the field and in my 20s I wouldn't have been able to answer the 'but why didn't you study medicine' without shame. I didn't get the marks and also I wanted to distance myself from my family, not follow them into the healthcare field. So now, in my forties, with ten years of tech career, then ten years of mum-ing I am into my next phase - nursing. Maybe for ten years. And because I spent some time thinking about Diwali, and talking to my kids about the idea of a life path and dharma, next time someone asks me how my degree is going I can reply that I am on my path, without feeling awkward or being flippant or dismissive.



So many times people ask me if I shouldn't 'have a rest' from my medication. These are often the same people who suggest people with depression should just remember how good they have it compared with people in Syria/current the international hotspot, or suggest that we harden up (We are the toughest people you will ever meet. We do battle with our own minds). The short answer is 'no' but it's slightly more complicated than that.

Imagine I was an asthmatic (I'm not).  Would anyone suggest I needed a rest from my preventer medication? Even if I wasn't getting symptoms or having asthma attacks no one would question the decision to be on medication, made in conjunction with the relevant health professionals. In fact, if I felt all better and started talking about stopping my preventer medication someone would remind me that without it I sometimes get really sick.

Have you ever thought an asthmatic should just toughen up and keep breathing? Have you thought they should just appreciate the oxygen they can get and stop worrying about what they can't have? Have you avoided talking about difficult subjects because you didn't want them upset, thinking it might trigger an attack? If an asthmatic needs to take some time off work or study while they get their symptoms under control how do you view it? What about if they decide they need to use a variety of approaches (medical and lifestyle) to deal with their illness? I have several friends who won't come to BBQs or bonfires on the cooler months because they say they can't breathe. I don't judge them negatively for that.

My illness isn't that different. I use meds, lifestyle and talk therapy to deal with it. When I have a major depressive episode I try to catch it as early as possible and put some things in place to help me manage while things are difficult. I try to remember, when I feel good, that my meds are preventative because when things are good it's easy to forget how bad things can get (what's that saying about forgetting pain?).

All that being said, there are many different ways to manage mental illness, and more and more research is being done on gut-brain interactions, and I am not going to criticize anyone who chooses to deal with their illness in other ways - as long as it is working for them and their loved ones!



I've had a shitty week. Lots of tears and gritted teeth but a lot better after seeing the compassionate Dr S. He told me I should be writing stuff down more (I think he meant writing good stuff about myself down so I could go back to it in moments of self-loathing) but making notes for myself and diary writing have always had a whiff of make-work about them to me, so I will write here. Also, writing good stuff down about myself makes me nauseous, so I'm going to write other stuff.

Dr S asked me where I thought my crazies came from and I have no doubt that for me there is a genetic and environmental component. I am not a geneticist, psychologist or neurologist. I have not seen inside anyone else's brain and I have not studied theories of the mind. I have a working knowledge of undergrad sciences, a smattering of anatomy and physiology, and I've read some pop-psychology books, including the wonderful 'Brain that Changes Itself' by N. Doidge about brain plasticity. And I know that a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. All that being said I want to explore where my crazy comes from (disclaimers: This is about me, not you. I'm not a doctor. Blah blah blah).

Lets see how far I can stretch my little marble-run analogy. At my conception genes were reconfigured and I got my own set of blueprints, part of this was the plans for an amazing marble run that would become mind. Genetics used the building blocks available, from my mother, to build the marble run. It was so complex that a marble could barely get from top to bottom - too many options, too many connections, inefficient. But genetics had a plan - it knew that after it had built this complex structure, it would start getting used, and as that happened the connections that weren't useful would start getting dismantled, or at least have blockers installed so marbles (thoughts) would take the more efficient way, thus the thing could actually work (so far this is OK, it's just my understanding of basic neuroscience). Unfortunately, in the plan for my mind, my genetics included a bunch of things that are not very helpful. Some were probably included in case they could be helpful and some are probably attached to other things that are helpful in ways that I certainly don't understand. 

For instance worrying is a useful adaptation. It allows us to plan for the future and keep ourselves safe. Anxiety and panic attacks are unhelpfully overdoing worry, and making it difficult to manage normal things, like putting on pants and getting out of the house. I have always thought that anxiety and creativity were also linked - as in, you have to be creative to make up that many scary scenarios in a mundane world - but apparently research backs up my hunch (admittedly, I haven't read the research paper, but that article makes me feel like I have a superpower!).

More unsettling than the anxiety is the depression. Why did the plan include whole sections of the marble run that for some reason colours all marbles blue and slows them right down, takes them in circles and drops the marbles off the edge of the table rather than neatly into the velvet lined box? Why weren't those bits pruned off in the early days? Worse than that, some of those blue sections were somehow encouraged by my early experiences. Some of the splits where a marble can either roll, unimpeded and cheerful, to its destination or head down the blue and tangled depressive path have had the happy option blocked. 

Triggers? For some people, healthy people, who maybe only have one tiny offshoot of 'blue' can weather life's ups and downs. They may get depressed, but there is usually a trigger - major life changes, losses, identity changes, that kind of thing. Once they recover, and they almost always do, their depression is in their past. For me the triggers are often untraceable, some tiny switch that was triggered long ago that means that random marbles will end up in the tangled mire of depression. I have major depressive disorder and my depression is always in my future as well as my past and when it is really bad it is almost impossible to live with (as a friend said to me once, urging me to get some help - you have an illness that is trying to kill you). Sometimes there are triggers for me - lifestyle factors like alcohol (specifically binge drinking), lack of exercise, toxic people, being in situations where I feel my options are curtailed or (more usually) a combination of the above can be problematic. Add normal stressors on top of those things and my thinking can go off the rails.

The next question becomes how to manage things when the marbles are travelling through a blue section, is it possible to avoid the blue sections or can I make the blue sections less blue or even unblock routes so the marbles can exit the rough parts. Sometimes I can avoid triggers (still doing 100 days sober without any problems, still having issues with exercise), often I can use CBT style thinking to interrupt my patterns and divert a marble* sometimes therapy can help divert those marbles. Medication helps massively to keep my brain chemistry in order. Hopefully this combination, including having to mess around to get a good stable medication regime going can help me get back on track and then stay there.

..... and if you made it this far you deserve a punchline - now you know why I smirk whenever I talk about losing my marbles ;-)

Question of the week: is it weird to send your therapist your blog posts?

* Like yesterday when I attempted my clinical skills exam - I did something wrong and need to resit, but managed to halt my catastrophising feelings of 'I swabbed a wound wrong, clearly I'm not cut out for nursing. I can't contribute to society I may as well be dead' and get back to 'drat, I have to re-sit the test on Friday')


Don't Blame Autistic People, or Mental Illness, For Mass Shootings

Don't Blame Autistic People, or Mental Illness, For Mass Shootings - when I was googling trying to find information on some of MY mental health diagnoses I found a surprising amount of bullshit about how people with mental illness are awful, un-compassionate and destructive. Not good stuff to come across when you are having a mental health crisis. Trust me on this, it's pretty horrible having your worst suspicions about yourself confirmed by random strangers on the internet, people with no evidence of having any actual education on mental health issues. This post is from a blog that I have followed on-and-off for over a decade and this post obviously resonated with me.


Not a Joke

Question: What did the penis say to the hairdresser?
Answer: Absolutely nothing.

It's the hair on heads we are talking about here, not genital hair, OK, so the presence or absence of a specific set of genitalia has nothing at all to do with haircuts. Right? Are you with me so far? Not too complex really. Here is another not-joke for you:

Customer: Can I have a haircut please?
Hairdresser: Have you got a penis?

See, I told you. Not funny. But a situation like this happened to my friend today, and I need to rant.

My friend has short hair, exists mostly wearing jeans and tshirts and is often covered, to a greater or lesser extent, in paint. In fact the paint is often the most memorable feature - I asked at a local cafe is they remembered my friend coming in for coffee and it was when I said "covered in paint" that their eyes lit with recognition and they said 'strong latte no sugar!' or some such. Because unsurprisingly the lovely staff at the cafe are more interested in what someone's regular coffee order is than what genitals they have.

Back to hairdresser. My friend is a woman. She doesn't like labels for herself, but the labels other people ascribe to her might include woman, girl, lesbian, queer, genderqueer, gay, gender non-binary, dyke butch, possibly boi and definitely the one she really hates, shorty (I think she is over five foot tall, but not by a whole lot). She occasionally gets mistaken for a young man. She has pretty short hair. Today she walked into a hairdresser that advertised $12 haircuts for men with very little money in her pocket and asked for a boys haircut. The hairdresser gave her a haircut but charged her for a 'ladies' haircut. She didn't have the money, was told to use her credit card, and to add insult to injury was told the business charged a $2 fee for credit card payment.

In whose world is this OK? In whose world is it OK to charge my brother with his handsome, long, curly, difficult hair (and penis) one price but my friend with her handsome, short, straight, neat  hair (and vagina) a higher price? It's not OK in my world!

The anti-discrimination board clearly states that:
Sex discrimination is against the law... ...when you get or try to get most types of goods or services – for example, from shops, banks, lawyers, government departments, the police, public transport, local councils, doctors, hospitals and other medical services, hotels, sporting venues and entertainment venues; 
from the Anti-discrimination Board of NSW sex-discrimination fact sheet 
So this behavior is not OK in NSW law, either.

(Here endeth my rant, but if this, or something like this, has happened to you and you want to make a complaint but need some not-a-lawyer support, let me know and I'll be so happy to help you out)


I hate post titles! So awkward. Weirdly, I like emails to have good clear subject lines though. How about 'Therapist visit recap' - will that do?

On Wednesday I met with the psychiatrist I had been seeing during my hospital stay. I didn't get any more clarity about the vague hint of a diagnosis he gave me but there were some really good things about the visit.

I was able to be really clear with him about a few things that he'd said to me that I thought were insensitive. I wasn't accusatory, just clear about how I felt. It was difficult and awkward, but he responded really nicely, explaining why he had asked what he'd asked and acknowledging that given the topic, it had been inappropriate (sorry for being vague, but it was bad enough talking about it the first time around). I also was able to explain the things I did like about seeing him - he's a clever, sharp and insightful guy, with a good heart. The weirdest thing was saying goodbye to him. It was incredibly awkward - a wave or nod is far too casual for someone who you have sat and sobbed in front of while talking about the reasons for your self-loathing but a hug is off the cards with shrinks. Anyhow, I shook his hand, feeling weirdly male, or perhaps German, and realised, suddenly, that he was only my height, perhaps even a shade shorter. When I was in hospital and described him to someone and I remember saying that he was really tall, well over 6 feet/1.8m in my estimation. To realise he was only my height was to understand quite viscerally how differently my mind was working now, compared with when I was admitted. I still have bad days, bad hours, some times are really shit, but I feel, both literally and metaphorically, big enough to cope now.

Now, how to get some exercise factored into my days. Any tips? I'm thinking it might be more important long term than giving up booze. I'm not feeling any clarity or goodness that the people I know who have stopped drinking talk about. On the up-side, I'm not feeling bad about it either, and it hasn't been particularly difficult or fraught.


Post Discharge Follow Up Appointment

I think I'm pretty much well now. Or should that be 'managed'? I see myself as having a chronic illness that's managed but has occasional flare ups. If I'm lucky I can get treatment before the flare ups get too bad. Maybe one day I will be unlucky enough that my illness will kill me. Anyhow, my meds seem to be working pretty well and I'm coping ok with normal stresses, but sometimes, suddenly, things suck all over again...

Y'know when you've had the 'flu, and you are finally feeling better, your body has stopped aching, the exhaustion has lifted and you think you're invincible, so much energy... Then suddenly the wind is knocked out of your sails and all you can do is just find a place to crumple into a weary little heap?. I think that's what is going on for me now. Some days people ask how I'm doing and I'm all "I'M BETTER!" but a bit too bright, too intense and then without a noticeable trigger I'm suddenly all teary, having what are euphemistically called 'intrusive thoughts' that I could really do without and generally having difficulty coping.

Tomorrow I have the follow up appointment with the psychiatrist I had while in hospital. We are going to argue a bit over my diagnoses (he will give me a report that I can use with mental health professionals going forward) but it will be OK. I've about half of the things I planned to do after coming out of hospital (the two things I'm most happy about are that I've downloaded a mood tracking app and I'm using it! And I haven't lapsed with my plan to be 100 days sober).

So now I need to get stuck in to writing an assignment for uni. And no matter how stressful or triggering it is, I still have to do it.