23/03/2016

Tanya asked what an Atheist Hindu was...

..and I told her I didn't really know, but I would try and think it through. She asked in the context of me claiming that my Pundit acknowledging 'Atheist Hindu' as a thing. It's something I've been thinking about a bit recently, as I try to make sense of the difficulties I face and when I revel in feeling like I am fulfilling my dharma as I study nursing and raise my kids. I was brought up by a non practicing C of E father, a mother lapsed from her strict Methodist upbringing to vague eastern hippiehood and I went to an anthroposophical school. I was not destined to get all fundamental about any religion, but to give all of them a certain grudging respect.

I don't think there is a divine plan, or really a divine at all. I don't believe in anything supernatural, but I know there is stuff that science can't explain (yet). I suspect our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for.

Hindu gods can be approached as a manifestation of a feeling, or a desire, or even perhaps a social construct. As such I give a respectful little (mental) nod and a wink to Ganesha (Remover of Obstacles) before I start some new endevour. In distracted moments I wonder how I would depict Saraswati (Wisdom and Learning) if I were creating a likeness of her (traditionally she has a musical instrument, but that doesn't work for me). Really what I'm pondering in these moments is what obstacles I may have to overcome or the nature of wisdom

I look at my life in terms of fulfilling my Dharma (looking for, and following, my life's path). I don't believe in literal reincarnation, but I do believe that in so far as our actions impact the world, those impacts can easily last beyond our deaths and they are something to be mindful of.


Please, I know very little about Hinduism really, so standard disclaimer: all errors are entirely my own. 
If you aren't comfortable with me claiming Hindu status then I am perfectly comfortable sticking with Atheism

11/12/2015

Nursing Prac - the reflection that I couldn't submit to uni

This prac has been a game changer for me.

I've always been a bit 'nursey' - black humour and can talk about gross things at mealtimes. I have endless relatives in nursing and a few of my friends are nurses but over the last three weeks I feel like I've started my induction into a whole new world. It's not just the stuff people talk about - naked bodies and bad smells, although I guess that's part of it. It's not just that I was useful and made a difference to a few people's days, although that was pretty important to me too. It's something else, that I'm finding much harder to put my finger on.

When you become a parent you are generally pretty blindsided. Although people talk about it, you hear the jokes, you know there is going to be sleepless nights and dirty nappies and you hope with gritted teeth that you are going to love the little thing when it arrives. But nothing, no amount of pet-ownership, nannying, teaching, reading or siblings can prepare you for the visceral reality of it. I remember back in the early days talking with my wise mum mates, lamenting the fact that no one prepared us and coming to the conclusion that no one told us because there is no combination of words that can make those feeling make sense. There is simply no way to warn anyone else of the horror and the joy of it all. I suspect it is this, multiplied by many, without the social approval and the vast proportion of the population that go through it, that prevents so many veterans from talking about their experiences in the way. No words can convey the fullness of the reality.

And finally, here I am, being admitted to the only club of which I have always wanted to be a member, without understanding there was a club or what membership entailed. I do look at naked bodies differently now (FYI old bottoms are strikingly similar, everything else is surprisingly unique) but I'm more interested in their skin tone and their abilities than their shape, whether I'm going to be able to manage whatever I'm doing without tearing skin that has become tissue paper fragile with age; whether they are going to be able to lean forward so I can wash their bottom without them standing; and how I can best help these people maintain their dignity in the most undignified of situations. As for the bad smells, I use the advice of my mother, wise old nurse that she is: breathe through your mouth. I am also in favour of surreptitiously chewing minty gum.

But the other part was the amazing part, bodies and dignity I always knew I could manage, but how to manage my own feelings when someone old and in pain gazes into my eyes, not knowing who I am, except that I am in a nurses role, and asks pleadingly 'when am I going to die' (I replied with 'I don't know' - that was over a week ago and she is still alive, but is rarely conscious now. She has no visitors so I never worked out where the garden-fresh roses or gardenias in the little vase near her bed came from). What can I say when people say 'I really don't know why I'm here' and you don't either, except they forgot they had the same conversation with you yesterday. And every day before that. So I concentrated on being my very own tiny-but-strong force for good - taking my time when I moisturize battered old legs to give the gentlest leg massage in the world, using two teaspoons of instant when making coffee for the lady who I know likes it extra strong and reciting any tiny snippets of any old poems that I can dredge up out of my memory (Ogden Nash is a favourite!).

For the record, in the 'reflection' I was required to do for my assessment, I did the written equivalent of mumbling about wound dressings and how I want to improve my aseptic technique. That isn't actually wrong, I do want to improve, but really, that's like asking a veteran about the war and being told that whenever he got new boots he got blisters. Important in it's own way, but missing the point.


09/11/2015

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.



06/11/2015

Medication

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!


20/10/2015

Homework



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')

12/10/2015

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.

28/09/2015

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)