Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Is compassion a mental illness?

I was at the doctor's office the other day getting checked out for my unrelenting phone-sex-voice-inducing laryngitis. I usually don't go to the doctor for physical things so it wasn't surprising for my doc to move on to my mental health after she'd checked out my throat.

"How is your mood going?" she asked.

"It's pretty good, I've been having some really good days!" I replied excitedly. "But when I do have the awesome days, the effort I put in to seeming normal is exhausting and I'll often sleep all day after to recover, but on the whole, I'm soooo far from where I was!"

"Well that's moving in the right direction. What about your anxiety?" she added.

"It's not great. But my anxiety is mostly about actual things and it doesn't stop me doing things."


"Well, the federal election, Brexit, Trump, violence toward the LGBT community. The world seems to be in such a state of upheaval and it worries me what is going to happen next."

"That shows me your state of mind is still out of whack. You live in Australia but are worried about shootings in America and xenophobia in England, it doesn't make sense.

I left feeling really strange. I quite like this doctor, she's been very helpful and gone above and beyond trying to help me through my recent breakdown. She's smart, caring, non judgemental, and genuinely kind. But I respectfully disagree with her on this one.

I don't think feeling upset over the state of the world is a sign of mental illness. It isn't stopping me going about my day at all, it doesn't negatively influence how I act, but it is on my mind.

We are global citizens. What happens overseas impacts Australians. It impacts my life and the lives of my children.

The flux of racial hatred from some pea brains in the UK who hadn't thought to read what Brexit actually was and assumed it was about shutting down borders and tossing out immigrants, gave power to others who share the same small-minded thoughts on immigration and refugees. Just look at #postrefracism on twitter for truly horrifying examples. And the amount of Australians who said we should be next was staggering.

The overseas cheers and congratulations from the homophobes after the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub spurred an outpouring of love worldwide, but not enough to drown out the cascade of hate. Overhearing people at my local shops condoning the attacks because of the sexual orientation of the deceased filled me with disgust.

It hurts my heart to see so much hatred. So much fear. And I have genuine concern for the world my children are going to inherit. I don't think that makes me mentally ill. It influences my vote, who I am friends with, who I choose to spend time with, what charities I support, and how I raise my kids, but it doesn't make me huddle in a ball afraid to leave the house. However I am a person with mental illness so perhaps I'm not the one to make the call on what is or isn't bat shit crazy.

When did caring what happens to other people, being compassionate, wanting for a better world, become mental illness? 

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Letter to Tricky - Six years old

Happy birthday, Buddy!!!

Little dude, you are six years old today. SIX.

You are in year one and loving every minute of it. You're the youngest in your class but have managed to get in the top numeracy and literacy groups. The nerd lyf chose you it seems.

I love all the notes you write and watching you figure out how to spell things is fascinating. Like the time you tried to spell Mercedes and wrote "msady's". Sah cute! You label everything you draw, a trait that means I will keep the label maker away from you or I'm sure to come home to you having labelled the dog.

Boundary pushing and selective listening are two of your favourite hobbies it would seem. I'm told it's normal for your age, but geez where did my lovely, reasonable boy go? You're growing up and asserting your independence, and I do love that, but sometimes I find it hard when getting ready for school takes seventeen reminders, a chart, and threatening to leave without you before you'll put your bloody shoes on. It's OK though, you'll figure it out... won't you?

Scooting at the skate park is high on your list of awesome things to do, and you got a new scooter and helmet this morning so I'm sure we'll be back at the ramps very soon to christen them. You can manage a few jumps and apparently they have cool names but I don't know what they are.

You started Auskick last month and you freakin' LOVE it. I wasn't sure how you'd go because previously you've considered yourself a master at any given sport after two minutes and then refused to play any more. But your team is almost exclusively made up of your school friends, and you all play together really well.

Every day after school you and your mates kick the ball around, and then when we get home you want to practise more, so lately you're out in the yard until it gets chilly, kicking over and over again. You're not what I'd call a natural athlete, but the effort you put in is amazing and you have come so far from not being able to do anything to having a pretty nice kick for a newbie.

You've kicked two points - the first time because you didn't know that the goal was the middle part (oops, my bad) and the second time because there were people in front of the goal and you didn't want to hurt them.

You are still a sweet, sensitive little man and will often tear up in movies, even crying at happy endings because you're so pleased it all worked out. Your level of empathy is astounding and it has helped you understand what has been going on with me lately.

Recently you wrote me a note saying you were glad I was getting my 'joy' back and it was so touching. I've explained my depression to you using Pixar's Inside Out as a starting point and you seem to understand it really well. I let you know that I take medicine to help my brain, the way you take medicine to help your lungs, and I'm hoping being open and age-appropriately honest with you will mean you never stigmatize someone with mental illness or abilities different to your own. I've hidden a lot from you, my boy, but I know you can feel what is going on and I'm so proud of you for how you've handled it.

We went camping for the first time as a family recently and it was so great so we'll be going again soon. You loved it so much and haven't stopped talking about it. You rode your bike from sun up to sun down and pretty much only came back to the tent when you were hungry. You had a massive stack and got blood everywhere which you thought was pretty cool after it had stopped hurting. It was wonderful to see you talking to new people and you declared that making friends was the best bit about the whole trip. There may have been something in my eye after you said it.

You had a disco party last night and you declared it the best party ever. Probably because dancing to loud music with the coloured lights flashing in the darkness at what should be bed time is so out of the norm. You had some lovely friends over and were very lucky to receive some amazingly thoughtful gifts.

It's gonna be another great year, dude, I can feel it. Your confidence is developing so much and I can't wait to see what happens. I promise we'll wag a school afternoon again soon and get up to mischief together.

Love Mum xxx

Friday, May 6, 2016

It's just a colour

The other day at school drop off I witnessed Tricky being teased. I'm sure kids have been mean to him before, but it was the first time I'd ever seen it happen.

We were hanging around the classroom door, waiting for it to open and a few girls in his grade were there too. They were all chatting and laughing, having a nice time.

Then the mood shifted when one girl, who is usually lovely, noticed Tricky's pink water bottle.

"Errrrr, you've got a PINK water bottle!!! Girls, look, Tricky has a PINK water bottle!" she squealed.

Tricks tried spinning around so the girls couldn't see his water bottle on the side of his back pack, but the three of them pounced on him and stopped him from turning. They weren't being violent, they were just mucking around.

"Let me see! It's PINK!!!" they laughed.

He made some funny faces at them and they lost interest in the water bottle, but as a groups of kids are want to do sometimes, they picked something else.

"And you don't have any freckles! That's so weird!" The girl said.

The other girls crowded around his face to have a look. Their freckled noses scrunched up with sun damage and scrutiny.

Tricks looked rather confused and asked who wanted to play chasey. They all said yes and off they went.

It was bizarre standing there, watching it unfold. I didn't want to step in, I wanted to see how he would handle it without me. I'm a fan of kids working out their own issues with guidance rather than mum stepping in every time to fight their battles, and since this was a low level teasing I felt it was a good introduction to standing up for yourself.

That he tried to make them laugh shows he's my kid. Humour is my weapon of choice. That he tried to change the subject also shows he's my kid. If my first weapon doesn't work, running away is my only other strategy. But I want him to have more.

When the doors opened we walked in and had a chat.

"What did those girls say about your water bottle?"

"They made fun of me because it was pink. Maybe I should get a new one?"

"You chose that water bottle because it's your favourite colour. Do you think someone who isn't hurting someone should change what they're doing, or do you think someone who is teasing someone should change what they're doing?"

"I think the person teasing shouldn't tease."

"Yep. And what can we say if someone says they don't like our pink water bottle?"

"It's just a colour! There's no such thing as boys and girls colours!"

"Right on, little guy! If that is your favourite colour, then it doesn't matter what other people say."

We did our usual kisses on his hands (so he can place his hands on his cheeks during the day if he feels like he needs a kiss from mum), and as I left he ran off to play with his friends.

All day I wondered if I'd done the right thing by not intervening. Should I have stepped in? Should I have said something at the time? Mentioned it to the girls' mums? They would have been mortified that their children were teasing and would have told them off. Or was holding back and arming him with words and reason the way to go?

Tricks has grown up in an environment where we try not to gender toys and accept that toys are for playing with and pretending with, no matter what colour they are or who they are aimed towards. He loves Lego, cars, plays rough and tells poo jokes. Other times he nurtures dolls and is Brozen - a bro who likes Frozen. His favourite colour is pink and he wants to be an army officer when he grows up.

He's a wonderful mixture of masculine and feminine but I realize that he could seem weird to some people who are only used to rigidly defined gender roles.

So I equip my boy with strategies to use when someone teases him and hope for the best in a schoolyard that can be cruel sometimes. It's just a colour. Although in my head I'm shouting inappropriately at a six year old "It's just a fucking colour and it's called sunscreen, bitch!".

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Heartache and help

I have this heart condition.

I've had it for years but it's been pretty good for such a long time now that I don't see anyone for it. I was discharged about 18 months ago from from my follow up program because I was doing so well. Hooray for me.

Except recently, this heart condition flared up.

I was really ill.

So I did what I was always told to do when I felt like my heart was going to give out and headed to my GP for a referral to a specialist. 

My 'emergency referral' got me an appointment a MONTH away.

I knew I wouldn't be able to last a month with my heart like this. Doing it's own thing, getting sicker by the day. I'd be dead in a week. The specialist said go to the emergency department in the meantime.

A friend took me to the ED on a Monday night and I was assessed. Yes, my heart was just about to give out, but since I had kids they didn't think it would give out any time soon. 

I didn't understand. What does having kids have to do with it? No medication was started, the nurse said it was because I might have an anaphylactic reaction to it and they didn't want to be responsible for that. Um, OK?

I was left by myself for a while, then discharged alone at midnight having been promised that a referral to Hospital in the Home (HITH) had been made, and that it was HITH that would take care of my heart with medication. 

At home my heart got sicker, but I waited, thinking HITH would come and help me soon. We got referrals to three private heart hospitals and two public, putting our eggs in as many baskets as we could. Hoping there would be space somewhere. That someone would help my poor heart.

We learned that the private heart hospital would charge us $420 per day for me to stay there, after my private health had paid. And that that wouldn't cover specialist fees or medications. You have to be rich to be sick, it would seem, even in Australia. 

MG had two weeks off work to look after me and the kids because I couldn't get out of bed let alone be an actual parent. I've been absent from school drop offs and using the last of my energy to do a few fun things with the kids, wondering all the while if today would be the day that my heart would give out totally. If today would be the day I left my kids without a mother.

MG made a stack of phone calls to the hospital and was put through to all sorts of departments. Some had no record of me, some said the referral was pending, others said it had never been sent. There were no straight answers and we could never speak to the same person twice. 

Finally, at the end of the week MG got through to the correct person by pure chance and we learned that the HITH referral had gone through and been rejected as they didn't have any room.

I'd been desperately waiting for this "virtual bed" and no one had told us it wasn't available, and they hadn't referred on to another service like they should have.

So me and my heart were just left to fend for ourselves, desperate for medication, clinging on for dear life, back to square one as if we hadn't asked for help at all. 

I took another trip to the ED the following Monday as my heart had become much, much worse. I was finally seen by the heart team who noticed that they hadn't been called to see me last time when they should have been. They were so lovely. They said they had a bed upstairs on the heart ward for me and even gave me a starting dose of medication and had no idea why the previous nurse told me I couldn't have it.

But then, as quickly as it was given, the bed upstairs was taken away. Someone else needed it. There are lots of broken hearts, all needing help.

And as quickly as the bed upstairs was taken, so was my cubicle in emergency. I was now on a stretcher in the corridor.

Hours passed. A nurse checked on me once to find my heart was in a very bad way, I told them it hurt more than I could ever remember it hurting. He called over to another nurse and a passing doctor rolled his eyes and said "ugh, of course her heart hurts" then, trying to imitate my voice said "somebody pay attention to me".

I broke down. I couldn't believe I was being mocked for asking for help. 

I was informed that they'd stopped looking for a bed for me since all the receptionists would stop work in an hour, and that they would try again tomorrow... that I could spend the night on the stretcher in the corridor and try to get some sleep.

Have you ever been on stretcher in a emergency department corridor? Sleep is not really forthcoming. There were five or six empty bays that we could see from that corner of the corridor, but I wasn't allowed one of them, they were for "sick people" who would come in through the night, not for those with sore hearts.

MG and I decided I would be better in my own bed and tried to discharge but the doctor wouldn't let us. He kept saying "you're in a bed in a hospital" whenever MG or I mentioned the words stretcher or corridor.

We asked to talk to someone higher up. A few nurses (all lovely) came by to try and convince me to stay, but we again requested to leave. Being surrounded by so much trauma was making my heart hurt even more at this stage.

Finally, a nice doctor came to us and agreed that a corridor stretcher wasn't really ideal and said that it was likely I'd be waiting on that stretcher for four to five days for a bed to become available in the heart ward, and it might be better if I went home to wait it out.

I signed the forms and was discharged.

At home over the coming days we chased more referrals. The hospital had actually sent the referral this time (hooray), but to the wrong centre (groan), so MG, acting as both nurse and personal assistant, kept calling as many places as he could. 

Most said call again later, or that they'd get back to us. Two weeks later we've only heard from one of those places (to say no), the rest still haven't returned our calls.

Finally, we decided that it was worth a shot showing up at the local community heart clinic, without a referral, to beg for help.

I almost wept with relief when they said they would fit me in.

An amazing nurse (are you sensing a theme here? nurses are awesome) took me through and my heart was examined. It was really, really sick, but I had gotten there just in time. He recommended a course of treatment, got it written up by the doctor, and let me know which additional services he was referring me to... and then actually referred me to them. 

He said that my case is far from uncommon and recommended I never go to that particular emergency room ever again. 

He referred me to HITH again so now I am in the community clinic and the Hospital in the Home - where nurses and doctors visit me daily to make sure my heart is OK and that the medication is kicking in. 

It took two weeks of begging, being told that I was an attention seeker, being discharged without care, two emergency room visits, four GP visits, endless phonecalls, the tireless work of MG and that one amazing nurse to get medication started; to get the care that I needed.

As I see how much effort it took to get medical care I can't help but think that everyday people like you and me would find this delay in treating a heart condition appalling. 

But go back and change "heart" to mental illness, and this is exactly what is happening. What happened to me these past few weeks. And it's happening everywhere and we just accept it. 

The stigma of mental illness in the community is greatly reducing, but it remains high in the hospital, the very place we are meant to go for help. Medical professionals not taking it seriously; mocking patients; not bothering to put in referrals; providing a lower standard of care than they would someone with a physical condition. 

It's time to stop accepting that this is just the way it is. It's time to stop punishing those with mental illness. It's time we realised that mental illness is just as real as a heart condition, diabetes, or a broken leg. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Carrot + apple muffins - toddler approved!

Brought to you by Heinz
#S1 For full details please see my disclosure policy

What is with kids and liking food one minute and then acting like it poisonous the next?

It can change from week to week, even hour to hour at my place, and maaan it drives me mental some days. That's why I'm always after easy toddler recipes that hit the toddler food holy grail - delicious, nutritious and toddler approved trifecta!

These muffins are on high rotation at our place and so far they've never been refused! I'm always varying the ingredients slightly. Adding a handful of chopped nuts if they're not going to school, a sprinkle of seeds, a few sultanas here and there, or even adding some honey to make it sweeter when we have some sweet-tooth visitors coming over. But the basic recipe is as follows:

1 medium carrot - skin on, washed
1 small apple - skin on, washed (that's where all the good stuff is!)
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil or melted butter
1 packet of Heinz apple, blueberry and strawberry puree or any flavour you like!
1 cup wholemeal self-raising flour
1/4 cup honey
1/8 cup brown sugar - optional
1/8 cup oats - optional

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F
Grate your carrot and apple in to a mixing bowl, then add eggs, oil, Heinz puree and flour. If you are using honey, nuts, seeds or sultanas, add them in now. Mix until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between 12 muffin cases
If using, combine brown sugar and oats and sprinkle over the top of each muffin.
Place in the oven for 15 minutes - have a peek at 12 minutes to make sure they're OK.

I like using the pouches of Heinz puree to add different flavours to our muffins to change it up and help prevent Bobbin becoming bored of the food I give her. I like that their apples, pears and peaches come from Goulburn Valley and are steam cooked in country Victoria.

These freeze really well and even though I say they're toddler muffins, I often put a frozen one in Tricky's school lunch box in the morning and it will be thawed by the time he eats it. MG will take one to work... if there are any left.

I like putting these in mini muffin tins sometimes so that they are nice and small for Bobbin to eat in two bites, reducing the chances of crumbs going everywhere. Also it lets her believe she is having two treats. SNEAKY!

For more easy recipes that hit the toddler trifecta, find Heinz and their quality products online and on Facebook.


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