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.


Group Therapy - R U OK DAY?

**TRIGGER WARNING - discussion of mental illness, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts**

For those that don't know, these recent posts have been coming to you from a nice private psychiatric hospital. This came about because after fronting to my psychiatrist appointment and sitting there for my allotted time sobbing about how it was all too much and too rotten, and how it wasn't really and I hated myself for feeling this way because I knew that nothing had really changed, but my feelings had. I live with a fair amount of background anxiety and depression, and it had slid into a major depressive episode without me really realizing it. Happily, we got to it before it got to it's worst (I know how bad it gets, and this was not a 'rock bottom' scenario). Anyhow, my meds have been sorted, we have a plan for care going forward and I've had great care from the psychiatrist, psychologist and nursing staff and, despite some trepidation, I'm ready to go home tomorrow.

Why start talking about this now? Good question, thanks for asking! Today is R U OK day. I have had some wonderful people (friends, family and professionals) recognize that sometimes I am most definitely NOT OK and as a direct result I have been able to get treatment. I'm now at a point where I am more-or-less OK, and more to the point, comfortable sharing my experience. My hope is that there will be a critical mass of stories so experiences of mental illness are normalized and personalized to such an extent that getting treatment will be standard. In doing this I want to in no way diminish the horrible suffering caused by mental ill-health, I just want to remind people in pain that they have the right to seek treatment, whether they are currently coping or not.

Here is the short version: Ever since I can remember I have had periods of depression and anxiety. I started thinking about and planning suicide at eight. I had good days and bad days, good years and bad years. I got a formal diagnosis in my twenties (I went home and cried about that. For a week). I had postnatal depression after the birth of my first child (or was it just another depressive episode? I'll never know). When it I started to worry about my anxiety and depression effecting my kids I got serious about treatment and since then I've had several years of therapy and about five years of medication. Now I can add a few new medications and a short inpatient stay to that list. Going forward there will be more therapy, including DBT, a few lifestyle changes (including more exercise and 100 days dry) and of course, meds.

The other big one is how I explain this stuff to my kids? At 9 and 6 my two boys know there is something going on, and I respect them too much to lie to them. At the same time I definitely don't want to upset them so I explained, just two nights before I came in to hospital, that I was sick. I told them that last time I was sick it was my tummy, and I went in to hospital and when my belly was well enough I came home. This time it was my thinking and feeling that was the problem so I was going to a hospital that would help me get my thinking and feeling back to normal. They seemed OK about it at the time and they have been OK about it since - a lot more understanding than most adults, to be fair. In fact the little one got a lift home with a friend the other day and she told me he had been explaining things to her kids in the car. He said "Mum's brain is Out Of Control" (complete with whatever arm movements signified an out-of-control brain to an imaginative six year old). I think he nailed it.

Now, go look at a website like Black Dog Institute or Beyond Blue and read and learn something new (no matter who you are I PROMISE you can learn something from these sites) and then consider what you are going to do. Are you going to get yourself some help? Could you ask a friend or family member if they are OK? Can you afford to donate to one of these organizations? Or are you just going to smile at someone on the train or walking through the shops tomorrow?


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 ten minutes earlier. 


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!