Mental illness (nope, I don't have mental health at the moment)

I've been thinking a lot about ideas around accepting help, asking for help contrasted with autonomy and self-reliance in the context of mental illness. In my own self-critical way I told myself to shut-up and deal with the fact I need help, that to get it I need to ask for it, I don't need to 'prove' I need it and receiving help is difficult and weird but I'm going to have to get used to it. Thinking about this, and thinking about the process of getting better made me draw some analogies with the equivalent process when recovering from physical illness or injury. I used physical illness and recovery as a metaphor for mental illness with a friend and it seemed to be useful, so I thought I'd flesh out those ideas a bit.

In the acute stage of, say, a sprained ankle you need to take meds (anti-inflammatories, pain meds), rest and elevate the ankle, use ice and compression. You will probably need some help with what healthcare professionals call 'activities of daily living' (ADLs) because you can't and shouldn't use that ankle to hobble around to look after yourself. In the acute stage of mental illness you may need meds (which might be different to your usual meds), you need to rest (sometimes resting your thinking and feeling parts requires meds. A chemical compression bandage, if you will) and sometimes you need help with ADLs. You may be able to walk ok but the part that needs rest is the thinking and feeling part, so making decisions, sometimes even simple everyday decision like which tshirt to wear or what to have on your toast, become totally overwhelming.

In order to help a friend in this situation don't just offer to make them toast, say 'I'd like to make you toast, is Vegemite ok or would you prefer honey?' BUT if they say they don't want toast you MUST respect their autonomy (or make the toast but reassure them you won't be offended if they don't eat it - it's like the great post on consent and cups of tea)

Even when these things are possible they might take a lot longer than normal (so don't expect your depressed friend to turn up anywhere on time, and don't give them a hard time for being late, they have almost certainly already done that for themselves).

At some point the acute stage morphs into the recovery stage. With physical injuries this is the point where, if you have sort help from a medical professional, the physio might have given you a bunch of exercises to do. What questions should you ask the physio? How often should I do the exercises, will it hurt or will there just be some discomfort? When should I start to feel better and get full function back? How long will it take me to heal? What are the SMART goals of treatment? What is the long term prognosis?  These questions can and should be asked of mental health professionals. For sure these questions are more difficult in the field of mental health than physical injuries and ailments but it's really important that if you have a therapist you are on the same page with respect to these things. If you aren't recieving treatment and/or don't have a therapist it's just as important to try to work out where you want to be. A psychologist/psychiatrist/therapist may give you specific exercises - what is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) but a series of mental exercises. If you doubt this stuff works, or can work for you (which is pretty normal for depressed people) look up the research. If that is too difficult/personal/scary/etc look up brain plasticity (I liked 'The Brain that Changes Itself' by Norman Doidge) and pense on the fact that brains are incredibly powerful - if you can re-wire your brain after massive trauma then we can probably do some of the re-wiring necessary to be able to live and manage our mental illnesses.

Everybody says it, few people do it but WRITE DOWN* YOUR QUESTIONS. Doing this can be really hard when you are in the black pit of despair or when you are so anxious that you are worried about being able to keep breathing, so cut yourself some slack if you can't manage it. You could also enlist the help of a friend to do this. In fact, I have a few close friends and all of us suffer to a greater or lesser extend from mental illness. When we sense someone might be struggling we will often offer to help them make a list. Along the same lines, take a pen and paper to your appointment and try to write a few things down. Even if you ask the therapist what you should write down, it means when you walk out and suddenly realize you have very little memory of what just went on you will have something written to research or just jog your memory. Memory and cognition can be affected by mental illness, and I'm not just talking fear of impending doom or sense of self here. When I'm sick it takes me longer to process stuff, even simple stuff, and there are lots of things I don't remember so keep the pen and paper handy and don't beat yourself up when things don't go as planned.

Where does this get us? Like other illness and injury, there are steps you can take to get better, but healing often takes longer than you want it to. Even after you get back to a functional state you might find you get tired or overwhelmed more easily. As before, cut yourself some slack and surround yourself with people you feel supported but not smothered by. There IS treatment for mental illness. You can get better, even if you don't think you ever will. I have depression and anxiety and the symptoms have ebbed and flowed since my childhood. Sometimes I'm fine and sometimes I'm most definitely Not Fine. If I had proactive about treatment younger I might be better now at managing my 'twins' - the Black Dog and the Monster - but maybe not. Either way I am much better at calling for help now than ever before, I'm much better at allowing myself to heal, I'm still terrified by relapses and with this current relapse I'm trying to work on what might trigger these major episodes so I can avoid, to some extent, things spiraling out of control.

If you, or someone you love, is suffering with mental illness please work on getting some help  <3 p="">


Group Therapy #1


Oh crap, Here I am. First group therapy session. I spoke briefly to the nice psychologist E yesterday for the first time. She encouraged me to come, and here I am. She promised she wouldn't make me, or anyone, speak if they don't want to so I'm scrawling busily on a piece of paper. Busy. Maybe it's just something to do with my anxious self, I'll have to try it next time I'm at a party, instead of the ever-filling glass of wine. Crap. 
I wonder if the guy next to me can read my writing. I wonder what he thinks. I'm scribbling away before we even start and I hope I'm not making anyone else feel uncomfortable. I would be uncomfortable with someone else writing. It is like having someone in the group texting. Consciously I know everyone here is far more worried about themselves, but still, what is the etiquette?. Since I tend to since I feel like I take over in group settings, I'm going to concentrate on holding back and I'm going to use writing to help me fill the space left by talking, left by amusing people, left by emoting messily all over the place.
Nice psychologist E has asked everyone to introduce themselves. Name only, thank gods. I've got this. She started around the other side of the room, will I participate? I pitch my voice low and clear. My professional voice. It carries but is still quiet. That part went OK but I'll keep writing. Now she's explaining that the group topic is 'Values' and she's going through the ground rules. Normal stuff - confidentiality, respect, no mobile phones. Easy. Now Values. What are they, where do they come from, what stops us living according to our values, she's writing on the whiteboard.... TRIGGER.

Then Nice psychologist E started talking about about the fact we tend to beat ourselves up over.... I couldn't really hear her words any more, just the buzzing in my head, tears pricking, her kind voice saying that we are too hard on ourselves. Not me, I need to harden up, I cried in the gentlest of group therapy sessions. Then tears started to really flow the sobs were on their way, I fled. Seeing only the carpet in front of my feet (I'm good at that). Abandoning my shoes which I'd slid off and kicked decorously under my chair. 


Reading for Pleasure

My littlest one, not quite 6 years old, just came downstairs to tell me something.

He and his brother are meant to be asleep, but the big brother wanted to finish a book, probably one he's read multiple times, so the light was on. I think the little guy must have been bored because he came down to tell me.... wait for it.... He had read a book.

He's only just gotten the hang of reading, he's just practicing matching the sounds with words, and the words with meaning. This is actually the first time ever he has read for pleasure! I hugged him excitedly and welcomed him into the world of reading-for-pleasure, explaining how wonderful and powerful it was, and told him that my favourite activity in the whole world was actually just reading for pleasure. I'm so happy!


Some days are like this for me...

(From the ever hilarious XKCD)

...And blogging is like this for me some days too. I have things to say - I want to talk about our holiday, my kids school, my new fresh uni degree, religion (!), my wonderful mates, my inlaws, the list goes on - but making it all coherent isn't happening. Maybe it might work out as exams get closer and I need to procrastinate from study...


More travel!

The whole family was SO excited! Thailand then Singapore! Seeing Clare! Then Tim and Jen in Singapore! Elephants! Legoland! Singapore zoo! We found a someone to house-sit, got packed up and went to the airport for our 9:40pm flight. We started the check in process only to find that the kids couldn't travel on their passports because they only had five-and-a-half months validity. Apparently they would have just flown us all straight home once we got to immigration in Thailand. Now it's one thing to have a 9 hour flight, 4 hour layover in the early hours of the morning in the KL budget terminal then another couple of hours on a plane before reaching one's holiday destination, it's a completely different kettle of fish to be sent back after that kind of ordeal. We called the passport office, we pleaded with the airline, we looked at Asher's face as his big eyes flilled with unshed tears. We then caught a taxi home. The passport office was monumentally unhelpful, telling me that the quickest they could guarantee a passport was a week away (her: "we can have it done quickly at extra charge, which will take you two days from the interview but the soonest I can book you an interview is Friday, so you will have the passports on Tuesday" me: "WHAT?!?")

After we accepted that we were not going to get on the flight (and I stopped arguing tearfully with the passport office at 8pm) our luck changed. The kind lady at the airport post office stayed open to take passport photos, and we got the passport forms, the kind Air Aisia supervisor told us we could change the flight to the next night for free, our house-sitter is the director at Kiran's preschool and she and I sat up til midnight filling in forms and using black humour to take the sting out of the situation. We didn't really tell anyone (except to let Aunty Clare know at the other end) because we were so unsure of what was going to happen next, and to be perfectly honest I was mortally embarrassed that I hadn't seen that one coming and organised around it. The next morning a lovely, lovely woman at the passport office took pity on us and we had the kids passports within five or so hours. We picked up the passports with luggage in tow and caught the train to the airport. The kind supervisor booked us in (no queue) and gave us express passes so there was/will be less queueing at every airport. Even the hotel was very accommodating and changeged our booking without charge.

So after what felt like two and a half days in transit we arrived in Chiang Mai and we are having a fabulous time. More to come about our great visit to Baanchang Elephant Park later....



I've been getting my crafty on, partially due to my natural inclination, but I can't deny that Pinterest, a dry spell (no alcohol at all for a week), Christmas and school holidays haven't been major catalysts. 

After making the dinosaur habitat for us I got all excited and made fairy gardens for two families with little girls as their Christmas present. Nothing too overboard, just a few easy plants, some sparkly white pebbles, butterflies (shrinky plastic and florists wire) and air-dry clay magic toadstools and birdbaths. I thought I might so a little tutorial here while I still remembered what I did.

First I made the stem and the cap out of air drying clay. I didn't think too much about size, I just went with what felt comfortable in my hand.

Then I used water to make slip 'glue' to join the two pieces

After carefully joining the two pieces I inserted a wooden skewer. This was to enable me to stand them up in pot plants, obviously you couldn't use a wooden skewer if you were going to fire your clay.

It also made the toadstools easier to hold while I worked on them.

I used the pointy end of one of the skewers to make the gills of the toadstool. I got a bit fancy with some of them and made them a little more toadstool like.

They took ages to dry. For the first 24 hours they should dry under plastic to avoid cracking. You will know when they are dry because the colour will change to a much lighter colour (for this clay the pieces turned white) and they will not feel cool to the touch anymore.

You can see one of the birdbaths, a couple of christmas tree ornaments and a cheeky little gnome in there too.

I used student acrylic to paint them. I just painted the top of the caps red and gave them white spots, but you could get as crazy or as traditional as you liked at this point. I think I gave the red about two coats? And the white spots about four coats so they really stood out.

I varnished them, using a glossy varnish for the tops of the caps and a satin varnish for the rest of them. I was really pleased with the way they turned out.



Dinosaur habitat

My sister Clare is in Cambodia and blogging, my mum is travelling and blogging, my friend Megan is planning the trip of a lifetime and will be blogging, so I thought a post was in order. None of that exotic travel for me at the moment though. My life is all about parenting my kids, gardening and trying to make our house more organised and liveable (hence my Pinterest addiction) and here is a little project we did yesterday afternoon that covers all those bases.

I had a tired grumpy four year old and wanted to look at wardrobe systems in Bunnings, so I bribed the tired kid with the promise that we would buy some little plants and make him a dinosaur garden. We also bought a wide-ish, flat-ish pot, which was unnecessary but I'll use it for bulbs next spring. I was drawing my inspiration from cool terrariums I'd seen on Pinterest and originally planned to use plants I had at home, but I just couldn't resist the mini mondo grass ($1) and a few small-leaved sedums as well as something called 'corsican mint' which is a tiny little thing ground cover thing. I wanted all small-leaved plants because I think the scale looks better (same reason I don't like large leaved bonsai).

I probably took us about 10 minutes to put together, including taking a blade to a disposable water bottle to make the pond and wandering around the garden looking for appropriate rocks.

I wish I had chosen a sealed pot with a base, rather than terracotta, so it was easier to put in the boys room (although that *might* be a recipe for disaster) and I might work on the pond a bit (make it much flatter and fill it with blue glass decorator bead things rather than actual water) but I'm pretty happy with it. More to the point, Kiz loves it, and has given all his dinosaurs drinks, baths, and plants to munch on.