The last post was quite rant-y, in fact it lead to my first not so pleasant comment. At first I was actually quite upset by it…stupid as it was, as I didn’t know this person, nor really care about their opinions of me…but I still remained upset. Then the absolutely lovely Jennifer updated her blog with this post and I really remembered why I am the way that I am. This post moved me and made me glad of everything I said. I was glad to take the bad with the overwhelming good.It also resonated with me as the true purpose of my participating in liptember. I was disappointed with the funds I had raised (especially as I know how badly we need more research into gender specific mental health) but what I wanted more than anything was to help others realise there was nothing to be ashamed of, to talk and to raise awareness that so many of us struggle with mental health (just keep reading for some awesome irony to that statement).
At the same time I couldn’t help but feel guilty….I wondered if she felt obliged to share because of how I was. Which wasn’t the intention of my rant. My rant wasn’t designed to make everyone run out and confess their demons unless they wanted to, the point was hoping for a day when mental illness doesn’t need to be hidden and be ashamed of and people could talk about it like any physical affliction they might have.
I have been thinking a lot about my own mental health lately. I think the period of sleep (which in turn showed me how life could be for me) pushed a lot of things to the surface which I needed to face…not so much the things I get depressed about, but more so the fact that I want a life that is more than “bipolar” and being unwell. Today I realised that for all my shouting from the rooftops and almost daring people to comment (as one reader followed through on) on how they didn’t want to associate with someone like me, I am still deeply ashamed of my mental illness. Those who know me know I don’t tend to shy away from things that embarrass or shame me. I am the first to mention my faults (of which there are many). I need to give these things a voice…it’s just the way I am. I am still hoping for some magical cure of my bipolar. That if I just take this combination of vitamins, if I just get enough sleep, if I can just get past my anxiety….but it’s a lot of ifs…there is no cure. But there can be wellness, at least so I have heard.
Three weeks ago I saw my psychologist for the last time before she went on maternity leave. I went in needing a cure to my ridiculous anxiety and guilt in relation to my mother. Specifically that since banning her from the house a few years ago she has kept the pressure on me to lift the ban. I also know that she has a job now (and money) and a car (means to travel) and her job is at the school canteen (six weeks holiday). I know the pressure will be put on. I couldn’t decide if she would put more pressure on me if my brother was with her this year (he really wants to see you) or if he was at his fathers for xmas (I’m so lonely). I wanted a strategy for being able to be strong, while not having any anxiety or additional stress over having to have this phone call which I feel to be inevitable. She straight up told me that wasn’t going to happen. I was a bit shocked. Every person I have worked with (in a mental health capacity) has told me if I just try hard enough I will somehow overcome everything and be perfectly normal (whatever that means). She is the first person (mental health worker) who has made me not feel crazy. Who isn’t out to cure me. I have been trying to “fix” myself for as long as I can remember, to be told I don’t need fixing made me cry. Instead we worked on what I wanted, where my boundaries were in regards to her visiting (we can meet you in Melbourne, but you can’t stay. We can do attractions, but I won’t pay) and what I will say in the phone call (I have my script in my bedside table ready to go) and how it is to be expected she will act the same as she always has when I have said no (two year old style tantrum…but with threats of suicide and self harm) and that it will likely get a lot worse before it gets better. We talked about how she would never try this with one of my brothers as he would just hang up the phone. We talked about what I would do with the anxiety and guilt that came before and afterwards. She reminded me it was ok to feel upset and guilty, the guilt, while not deserved, was there and I was better to allow myself to feel than to tell myself not to.
All of this left me feeling…positive. When I say I have spent all my life trying to fix myself I am not telling a lie. I have tried to change myself with every criticism…not at all successfully, and usually to my own detriment (which is usually a severe depressive period). To be told I was not broken, it meant more to me than I think she could know.
So here I was – a good three months at least without a therapist, not sleeping again and not exercising and feeling pretty crap. I had also discovered that as long as my carbs didn’t get too high through the day I could eat sugar…so I would eat protein and sugar. Chocolate mainly and cake. mmmm cake. When a few things happened.
First a friend gave me a sleep book/tapes with a program designed to help turn around insomnia. Secondly the Artist Way book and workbook (a creativity healing/unblocking program) I ordered ages ago happened to fall out of the book pile. Thirdly I started getting really…jittery I guess would be the best term from not exercising.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By Albert Einstein
I knew sleep helped me to be more “sane”. I knew running helped me to be more focused and get all the shit out. I knew I missed photography and wanted to create again…if I could. But the problem was I was sitting around not doing any of it. Hoping for the magical cure…until I was told I couldn’t be fixed. I don’t need fixing, but I do need health. I do need sleep and in order for me to be happy I need to create.
I cut right back on the sugar & carbs, well processed sugar and refined carbs. Instead I added back in potato & sweet potato, apple, kiwi and bananas. I no longer limit myself to two just small serves of berries a day. I also started running again. Usually first thing in the morning as I discovered that if I didn’t do it first thing I needed to eat, then I couldn’t run on a full stomach and then being Melbourne it would inevitably rain or the kids would keep me occupied. I felt good and strong and discovered I really hadn’t lost much fitness at all (in fact first run in seven weeks I clocked up my fastest ever 1km according to my nike+ app). Worried about the impact on my joints I switched to a local soccer field which has been abandoned now the season is over. Once a week I follow my 5km run with another 3km long walk around my surprisingly beautiful suburb. I added in the “7 weeks to 300 sit ups” app for some core work and some ballet courtesy of Miss 12. I went for my first swim in forever yesterday (I used to win races back at school and have always been a water baby) and managed 1.5km in 59 minutes 35 seconds (60x 25m laps), no I won’t win any races but I felt good. Running and swimming seem to be doing for me what meditation never could. I can’t sit still. I need to be doing something at all times. Running I can’t think beyond struggling to breathe and swimming I focus on counting my laps…my memory is still not great so I need to repeat my current lap number the length on the pool. Running gets all my anger and frustration out. I haven’t had sex in months. Running is all I have. It lasts as long as I can and ALWAYS leaves me satisfied. Swimming refreshes and calms me. Everything is quiet under the water, looking at that line on the bottom and calmly repeating a number over and over again. Of course I have now hurt my knee so I will have to focus more on the swimming until it is better.
The sleep program I am trying to constantly implement more. The first thing I did was move myself and my computer out of the bedroom (one of the reasons I can’t blog more…too much noise for me to think). When I came home from hospital two years ago I was heavily sedated and used to quiet. Before I knew it almost 18 months had passed with me rarely leaving my room. While my door was always open to my girls I couldn’t leave my room for long. I became a hermit and if it wasn’t for this blog I might have had no interaction with other adults. The noise, just general life noise, really tires me. I get headaches easily…but today marked twelve days straight living life outside of my room. The only two exceptions being the night I had no sleep and made it only as far as 4pm and today when I got home at 5:30pm went to bed as I needed my leg up (I have hurt my knee) and read. I keep a sleep diary and use a relaxation app before bed (what did I do before my iphone….I have an app for everything). The things I am struggling with are getting up at the same time everyday (I haven’t managed this once…I am too used to allowing myself to go back to sleep if I feel tired or not ready to face the world) and doing a second relaxation during the day. I just need to remind myself that while the tape says to do everything for 6 weeks to get results, I can start with baby steps. Just leaving the bedroom is HUGE, not even for sleep…just to feel like I am moving forward from what things were.
Last on my list is the “Artist’s Way” book. I had heard of this years ago on a photography forum. A 12 week program designed to help “unblock” you. I had ordered it back at tax time along with quite a few other books which have long since been read cover to cover, while this remained in a stack of books. Two weeks ago while moving stuff around they fell out. I decided that was the sign I needed to finally attempt at least reading the book. I read the introduction and week one instructions: Write three longhand pages every morning on waking (whatever you are thinking, but don’t read them again or show them to everyone…it’s a brain dump) and go on one artists date a week (alone…anywhere you can think of…designed to inspire…not to create). The first morning I did the pages I just kept writing “I have nothing to write” Ironic given how much I can write here. I honestly didn’t expect to do them every day, especially when the work book asks how many days out of seven did you manage. But by day three I was hooked. I am super cranky in the mornings. Instead of getting up and slamming crockery around and stomping around the house its all on the page before I leave the room. Then because I have seen everyday “go running, you feel so much better afterwards” I am able to put on my running gear straight after, before I leave my bedroom. Before I know it I have gotten all the mental shit out of my head and all the physical shit out while running. I start the day with a clean slate. I really thought it was a crock, I thought it was designed for writers, not broken down photographers who haven’t picked up a camera in years. By day eight I discovered on my page was ideas for photoshoots.
On day six I went on my first artists date. I almost put it off but the morning pages were working so well I thought I might as well give it a shot. I decided to take no money with me and to not skip any songs on my ipod while I was out. I went off to the immigration museum as I have always wanted to visit but figured it would be too boring for the kids (and we have a museums Victoria membership so its free for me). I arrived around 2pm thinking I would get through it in an hour. I was captivated. First by the building (Melbourne’s first Customs House), then by the stories told and by our history. I read about “Edda” who wanted to see the world so when her new hubby had a chance to settle in Aus they jumped at it. She bought with her a knitting machine and before long she was turning out all the samples for one of Australia’s best knit designers. She would then translate the designs into the knitting machine patterns. I read about the German cake decorator who emigrated here and then spent WWII in a camp…but he kept on making cakes. I read about detective sergeant Christie…Melbourne’s own Sherlock who regularly used disguises and questionable methods to capture the bad guys. But the true inspiration came to me when I reached the top floor. They had a set up for kids to make their own aircraft models. The centre was a huge tub filled with all sorts of crafty materials with tables around it. Above hung a net where various aircraft hung from. I realised that children are incredibly creative. When they hear “build an aircraft” they don’t hear “build a scale model of an airplane or a helicopter”. They create weird and wonderful things not limited by their knowledge of what an aircraft SHOULD look like. I spent at least twenty minutes walking around the net looking at the amazing things they made. I wondered if I could become unshackled enough to create, without worrying what I was creating wasn’t “right”. I noticed a lot on the walk down & back on Flinders St as well. More than I can list here. I felt inspired. Ideas came pouring out of my brain but I hadn’t bought anything to write on. I also came across the song “Vibrations in the Air” by Josh Pyke…which I had never really even listened to (and had probably always skipped) which really resonated with me
“Regret, is like a filter,
that colours all of your endeavours,
and once put on becomes a feature of your current works
You gotta change your focus,
turn your eye to something else
‘Cause once put on becomes a feature of your current works”
I think it helped that most of the song seemed to be photographic metaphors…but it is now played quite frequently. Inspired by my last artists date today I headed off to see the Exhibition Building. Unfortunately I only looked outside as some boating show is on at the moment and I wasn’t paying to get in. So instead I went into the museum. I wandered upstairs to the “Melbourne” section not really knowing what I wanted to look at. I was quite restless and almost left when I came across a small case filled with various artefacts from an old Melbourne asylum. I may bitch and moan about how crappy people with a mental illness are treated today, but it is nothing compared to what they went through even just 40 years ago. I then read a panel that covered a few brief stories of people who had been inmates. I found it really hard not to break down completely right there. At the end of the panel it mentioned more things could be found in their Mind/Body exhibit so around I went. I found it challenging to get through and heartbreaking. ECT is still used today (electroshock therapy) and it chills me to the bone. I know some people have had success with it but for me it will always be the thing a sadistic nurse threatened me with in hospital (note: nurses don’t get to pick the treatments…so she had no power over it, she said it just to be nasty). Thankfully lobotomies were mostly phased out by the sixties…but still only 50 years ago??? Then there was the Australian scientist who discovered lithiums usefulness for manic depression (aka bipolar) in the 1940s which is still used today.
I cried and was angry and sad and depressed and happy all in the space on an hour. Then I came to the end where they had a few artworks by people with different mental illnesses which seemed to be donated by the Dax Centre (who I have only just heard of and I have a feeling they will be next weeks artists date) The first three were from a man going through altzimers (I think) and again I wept. You could just feel how lost he was. Words misspelled and a map of what I imagine was his home. The some abstract mixed media works from a man recovering from the trauma of his heart attack. But the most moving and disturbing works came from a young girls art folio. Her parents discovered a few weeks after her suicide and took it to various therapists to try to understand why. I first attempted suicide at thirteen. Those works spoke to the desperate & sad girl I was. I wondered at this point why I never used any form of art to express myself during that time or any time of my life. I realised that even my work as a photographer never expressed me. That was something I never risked. I looked at those works and FELT what they were going through. What if I try to express myself and I just can’t? What if I try and it just falls flat? If I don’t try, I won’t have to deal with the pain of failing.
Working through the workbook and using the artist dates and morning pages I feel like I am finally getting to the heart of some things. I am moving forward. Some of it is painful, but it has long been avoided. I never saw myself as creative. I come from a family of artists – both performance and visual arts. Until I started photography I considered myself the black sheep. But even with a camera in my hand I felt like I was “posing” as an artist. Photography is a lot of science and maths…and my work was commercial (as in what people wanted) rather than personal or creative. I still am extremely scared that I haven’t got a creative bone in my body but I feel like I am getting closer to at least seeing if that is the case.
So that’s what I am doing at the moment. Feeling. Doing. Trying. Running. So I don’t know when I will be back….
If you got through all of that…well done.