Hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to work I go

After a two week hiatus, I am returning to work. I’m currently temping, which can be nerve wracking. It means learning a new job every week or two, and then doing it all over again.

I’m not sure how good this is for my mental health. Something permanent would probably be better. But it is a necessary step in recovering from my illness. It gives me time to see what I can handle and what I cannot.

Today I work at a physiotherapy clinic until the evening. It is a complicated job that required a full day’s training. I’m trying to feel up for it, you know, fake it till you make it.

I know I can do this. It’s just a matter of believing.

Believing in myself is not my strong suit. I doubt myself a lot. But it’s time to cut that out.

So today I will breathe and I will believe, and I will do everything I can to prove to myself that I am capable and that I can hack it.

Wish me luck.

 

Advertisements

Fatherless Father’s Day

This is my first fatherless Father’s Day. I was lucky enough to have two fathers, but both of them are gone now.

I’ve tried to joke about it – losing one father is unfortunate, losing two is just careless. But it’s not really that funny.

My Papa – my birth father – died four years ago this coming July. He had lung cancer, but he found chemo worked well for him, and we had some really good days. My stepfather died a year ago this July. ALS. It was a brutal end to an amazing life and the amazing love he had with my mother. Right up to the end, he wanted us to clamber onto his hospital bed to give him big hugs. He was a unique and beautiful person.

I don’t know anyone without father issues, though, and I’m no exception. Papa could be a very angry man. He tried to hold his anger and impatience in check, but the sicker he got, the harder that was. His last words to me were said in anger.

My stepdad, on the other hand, was a very patient person. For the most part. I could always rile him up by saying the wrong thing, or cheating at board games. He loved me most of all for my mother’s sake, I think, though over the years we navigated a relationship of our own. And it was a good one.

Whatever else, whatever any of our faults, I loved them both. Today is a hard day. Last year, my stepdad’s last Father’s Day, I didn’t do anything special. I didn’t want to admit to myself that the end was coming and there wouldn’t be any more. I regret that now.

Today I’ll celebrate them along with my husband, the best father I know.

Anyway, here’s to the fathers out there – the good, the complicated, and those who try.

Beyond medication for mental illness

It has been a week now and the shift is small, but it’s there.

A slight increase in my Abilify prescription, a half a tablet more, and my mind is no longer a dangerous place.

I’m not happy, not exactly, though I have moments of happiness and laughter that I didn’t before. I’m calmer, and ready to face the mornings without a sense of dread. My stomach no longer aches. And though I’m having problems with my memory, my mind works better than it did.

But still, I’m angry.

Angry at how little the system can do for me, for others like me, or those in worse straits.

We are lucky to live in Canada. We can visit a psychiatrist for free, and even get free medication if we can’t afford it. This is huge, and I know things wouldn’t be nearly as good next door.

But that’s as far as it goes. Other than CBT programs that take place during the work day, there isn’t any free or affordable therapy here in Burnaby. Some therapists operate on a sliding scale, but they aren’t easy to find, nor are they cheap.

I’ve opted to go the online therapy route, as it is more affordable and accessible. I don’t have to take time off work for it, once I find work.

But even that is outside the realm of possibility for many people. The cost is just too much.

From what I’ve been told, in-patient care for mentally ill people here does not involve any therapy, either. It is more like a babysitting service for those who cannot look after themselves for a time. But nothing is fixed there, nothing is resolved.

Many have to settle for advice from those without a true understanding of mental illness.

“You need to exercise for an hour a day.” “You need to consider your spirituality – maybe try Buddhism?” etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

And so we read books – I think the self-help industry has stood in for proper medical care for people with mental illnesses for decades now – and we get care where we can. Often from extremely caring people who are doing their best, but it isn’t enough.

I was recently told I have Borderline Personality Disorder traits, though not the disorder itself. However, DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) was suggested.

I’ve looked in my area. The process usually involves group therapy weekly for 26 weeks, as well as individual therapy on a weekly basis. This would cost somewhere around $850-950+ per month, not including (at one clinic) a $405 assessment fee.

If I actually had the disorder, I’d be SOL. While we have some coverage under my husband’s plan, it only includes $800 for therapy for the year. And his plan is a relatively good one.

My point is, there should be more emphasis on healing and helping people with mental illnesses rather than just maintaining a baseline where they don’t harm themselves or others. That’s not enough. People who are suffering should be helped.

So, while I am grateful for my medication, I wish there was something beyond a pill to help me, and others like me, through the hard times.

 

 

Growing up

IMG_0272
When I was 16 years old I bought two dozen plants with the idea that I would be some kind of teenage gardening prodigy. I was not.

The poor herbs and flowers languished on my parents’ balcony for weeks before becoming sun-soaked skeletal sculptures of twisting vines and withered stalks. It felt like some kind of metaphor, one I didn’t want to dissect.

Flash forward to the birth of my second child. I was an earth mama. I had my baby at home. I lived in a co-op, took transit, shopped at farmers’ markets. It was time to grow my own food.

I started big, applying to be part of a large community garden where each member got a quarter acre or so. Thankfully their waitlist was long.

But I did get in at another little community garden, right around the time I found out my father had terminal cancer.

I spent my hours outside of work with my father or in the garden with my kids, growing tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins, whatever I chose. I was good at it too, watering regularly, keeping the soil healthy, bringing home bucketfuls of vegetables.

My father would join us when he was up for it, watering our plot and those around us, enjoying the life around him. I loved it there.

After he died, though, I decided I wasn’t up for so much life. I had acquired a second, smaller plot closer to home and stuck with that.

My growing seasons have been sporadic, depending on my health. Sometimes I have full, vibrant tomato plants and glorious dahlias, other time I have scrawny little carrots and wilted lettuce.

This year, I’m trying to get the garden going again. It’s hit or miss. I planted seeds early, probably too early in my eagerness to get started, but a few things have come up. I’ll buy more plants this week to fill things out.

If the garden is going to be some kind of metaphor for my health or my life or what have you, I guess this is it, then – it is patchy sometimes, verdant in spots, and I will keep filling it as much as I need to keep it going.

For the love of weirdos

IMG_0282

I adore weirdos of all stripes, but most especially women weirdos and even more specifically, women weirdos making music.

These are my people.

I mean, I don’t make music but I sure do enjoy it. And I definitely meet the weird woman criteria.

Last night I was lucky enough to see one of the women who makes my weird little heart beat, Amanda Palmer. Despite the austerity of the venue – the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC in Vancouver – it was an intimate performance.

My friend and I arrived a few minutes late, which always makes me nervous, but my nerves were soon soothed by the story Amanda was telling.

It was  not a happy story, in fact, it was a rather harrowing one. That was the nature of the night – she led us into the dark places and back out again with a gothic but chipper carnival tune.

Her bare honesty and the accounting of her life was punctuated with songs from her new album, There Will Be No Intermission. There were other songs too, some hers, some Disney’s. Her rendition of Part of Your World was engaging on every level.

I was reminded of the Moon card in my tarot deck and was grateful for a guide through the underworld. Death was discussed. Abortions. Miscarriages. Motherhood. The deep dark of adolescence. All of the teemingness of life.

Her merchandise table sold handkerchiefs, which was helpful.

Despite the dark place I’ve been in lately, the show brought me into the light with humour, raw emotion and a shit ton of empathy.

It was exactly what I needed.

 

Being bipolar in Burnaby

We’re told we are not our illness, and this makes sense when we have kidney disease or something like that. But when we are talking about the mind, things get murkier. It is difficult to separate oneself from the parts of the brain that aren’t working properly, to see the brain as just another organ that may be malfunctioning at times.

I try to do that. I try to see myself as a complete human being with a part that’s not working properly, and not identify too closely with that part.

But on bad days, that isn’t easy. Bipolar 2 disorder, which I have, affects my life in a myriad of ways. It affects my interactions with my loved ones, it affects how fast or slow I speak, it affects how I see life.

So it does feel like a part of me, especially when it’s at its worst.

Having – or being, depending on the day – bipolar in Burnaby has its own challenges. I live in a small community and I tend to be open about what I’m experiencing. I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, I just know it is the only way I can see to destigmatize this illness. If people aren’t open about mental health and mental illness, others can remain ignorant of the struggles they face. Not that anyone should be open if they don’t want to be. It’s not as if the stigma is going to disappear overnight.

I am lucky. I have many people in my life who love me and treat me well. Not everyone is comfortable talking or hearing about mental illness, but I think most are. Does anyone feel entirely mentally well? We all have our mental baggage.

That being said, I am writing under a pseudonym, primarily to protect my family. My kids don’t need to fight stigma in their daily lives on my account. I’d like to leave them out of it.

So I’ll write here, and hope that what I say reaches some people – the people who need to be reached. If you have a mental illness or love someone who does, know that I’ll be in your corner, all the way from my corner here in Burnaby, BC.

Hello there

Just getting started – this will be a site for information on mental illness, my own experiences and observations, and whatever tangential things I decide to include. I hope it gives some insight into a mind living with bipolar 2 disorder, and a mind that has lots of other things going on as well, like a love for books, the natural world, and some very fine people.