I made a person. Apparently I can sew #domesticgoddess #wifemenow #diversiontherapy #craft
I made a person. Apparently I can sew #domesticgoddess #wifemenow #diversiontherapy #craft
One million people in Australia have depression, two million have anxiety, and many have both.
Most individuals who seek treatment for depression recover. Because our brain is continually being moulded and has an incredible capacity to change, psychotherapy (talk therapy) is a proven and effective treatment. As we change our thoughts and behaviours, over time our feelings start to change too. Some people need medication to give their brain a bit of help while they go through the process. The good news is, in Australia 3/4 of those who see a GP for mental illness make a full recovery.
But for some people, like me, medications and talk therapy just aren’t enough. I’ve had depression for sixteen years, seen more counsellors/psychologists that I can count since and have been on medication for over eight years. The medication helps and a lifetime of talk therapy has meant I am high-functioning – I’m not a particularly negative person – I regularly practice mindfulness and have a plethora of strategies that I use in my everyday life… But despite all this, I still struggle with a chronically depressed mood, called dysthymia and recurrent Major Depressive Episodes, which means I go through stages of Double Depression. In a way, I thought I was destined to be depressed…
…until about nine months ago, when I heard about a treatment for chronic/medication-resistant depression called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (or TMS). So I started researching about this treatment that was foreign to me – what is TMS? Was I eligible to try it? How could I access the treatment? What are the side effects? How effective is it?
The way I understand it, is that it is similar to ECT in the sense it uses an external source – in this case, a coil that repeatedly emits a magnetic field – to stimulate brain activity. Unlike ECT, it does not require aesthetic, cause a seizure and doesn’t have the cognitive side effects.
The magnet at the centre of the coil taps very fast on a specific point on my head – for me, it’s 40 taps in about 7 seconds, repeated 125 times on the left side. It takes 41 minutes. There will be a blue/purple spot permanently on my head while I’m undergoing my first treatment.
As it taps, the magnet stimulates the nerves in the frontal cortex, which is the part of the pain in charge of our logical thinking. The hope is to minimise the effects of depression by stimulating these nerves and increasing blood flow in that area of the brain.
TMS is for people with medication-resistant depression (yup! That’s me!) or those who are unable to take anti-depressants.
However, it’s not recommended or suitable for those diagnosed with epilepsy, have had a stroke, are pregnant or have implants that would be affected by a magnetic field, such as surgical clips, cardiac pacemakers, implanted medication pumps.
Unfortunately, in Australia TMS does not have Medicare number (yet) and it needs to be applied consecutively for a prescribed number of days – which means you have to undergo TMS as an inpatient.
The best way to access TMS in Australia is to find a hospital that offers it as a treatment, make an appointment with a psychiatrist who has admittance rights and does TMS and ensure you have private health insurance with psychiatric hospital cover.
Although it can be inconvenient to take time off from work and/or away from home, most hospitals also offer group therapy, education, access to allied health professionals, art therapy and lifestyle advice. This holistic approach has proven effective and is a vital part of recovery for the patients who participate and take advantages of all the treatment options available while undergoing TMS.
When I was looking at all my options with my psychiatrist my conclusion is this: it may work, but it is just as likely not to work – it seems like a 50/50 gamble. Statistically, it’s not as effective as ECT and there is no way of telling how a person will respond to the treatment until they try it.
However, it has far fewer risks and side effects than ECT or going through another medication change. The only side effects are tiredness and in some cases, a headache. Yep – that’s it! And it has made me very sleepy!
For me then, the only risk is a financial one, but three weeks in a hospital, undergoing group therapy and focusing on my health would be good for me, even if the TMS didn’t work. So, I have approached the treatment optimistic, but without expectation.
Unfortunately, it isn’t a permanent treatment, but I’ve been speaking to many others who have said TMS changed their lives and have been more than willing to return for their ‘top ups.’
…here I am. I’ve been prescribed 20 TMS treatments, one a day and in-between number 14 and 15. Three days ago I noticed a difference – for the first time in my life, I feel like I have a choice and safe in my head.
The best way I can describe the change in my mind is;
what had always felt like a dark, dense, damp forest with a narrow path and dangerous creatures waiting behind every tree to attack,
now it feels like a spacious, open, colourful meadow on a cloudless day with the freedom to go wherever I want, without fear.
And I am only 3/4 of the way through. I still have six treatments left – Praise God!
I confess, I’m a little upset I’ll have to keep my private health insurance (it’s not cheap). However, it’s a small price to pay for a treatment that has the potential to greatly increase my quality of life.
So, I’m going to embrace this new addition to my life and continue to Praise God for His goodness and perfect plan.
So I finally got myself a new brain! Meet Annie’s sister, Dotti! Nothing like an adorable plush brain for comfort, positive association and mental illness awareness!
#awareness #breakingstigma #mentalillnessawareness #depression #brain #allyouneedislobe #iheartguts #iheartgutsplush #dottiadventures
Diversional Therapy – anything that diverts your attention from the issue causing distress… The result, a button tree!
#diversiontherapy #arttherapy #craft #crafty #art #tree #buttons
It’s days like today when I’m struggling to summon the energy to be a ‘functioning human being’ that I remember an honest and genuine conversation I had with one of my teenagers during Bible study a few months ago.
I recall this conversation to remind myself of God’s grace, strength and sustaining power that gets me through each day. It’s an encouragement to continue being honest about life, even when it’s painful and sucky. I must confess, it amuses me (greatly) and makes me giggle a little on the inside.
I also find comfort knowing that I can come back and read it whenever I need to.
We were discussing how God uses suffering to deepen our relationship with Him, better understand faith, build His Kingdom and bring Jesus glory. For the sake of application, I briefly mentioned that these truths give me hope, even though I am in pain every day…
…another interruption (but a welcomed one)…
“So, you’re really in pain?”
“All the time?”
“You don’t look like you’re in pain.”
“Wait! You were in pain on Friday night?”
“Are you saying that you’re actually in pain, right now?”
“You’ve got it.”
“…Like, now-now? Standing there?”
and then he slumped back into his chair with a sympathetic bewilderment written on his face. I think he started to understand, which I am grateful for, even if it was just a little.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation, and it probably won’t be the last. So, I’ll continue to embrace the small opportunities to encourage open and honest dialogue. Conversations that develop empathy and grace to spur one another on to rely on God and persevere in suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.
2 Timothy 2:10 (NLT) “So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.”
As long as we remain silent, society remains ignorant. We can empower others and ourselves by sharing truth in love! #speakup #behonest #endsilence #breakingstigma
#speaktruth #love #mentalhealth #depression #chronicpain #endometriosis #endthesilence #chronicillness #awareness #jesus #truth #endthesilence
One of my strategies for managing chronic depression is getting out of the house every day. When I’m having an episode, most days I open my eyes, sigh with frustration and then begin the battle of my inner dialogue…
“Oh, another day. Time to get out o…”
“… close your eyes and stay in bed – just ten more minutes. Feel how tired you are!”
10 minutes later
“Okay, now I really have to get out of be…”
“…staying in bed won’t hurt anyone. You’ve had a busy few days. Besides, nothing bad can happen if you stay here in your comfortable, warm bed.”
“But, but I don’t want to waste the day…”
… and it continues. I am so glad that after years of unhealthily late sleep-in’s and ridiculously late nights, I’ve learnt;
a) that getting out of bed, despite my feelings is beneficial to my mental health, and
b) I can put strategies in place to make getting out of bed and out of the house every day possible.
So, here are a few strategies:
1. I acknowledge I am blessed to have a part-time job that I love, so three days a week I am obliged to get out of the house, and it has made a massive difference to my mental health. Don’t have a job or can’t be employed? Try volunteering; it’s commitment without the pressure. Before I was well enough to have paid employment, I volunteered at a local kids club, at church and for a mutual-help support group.
2. Organise to have a tea/coffee at a cute cafe least once a week with a ‘no pressure’ friend.
3. Spread out doctors, specialist and support appointments so they are on different days.
4. Access your local community centre or mental health support service. There are plenty of organisations funded by the government who organise activities (e.g. choirs, art lessons, computer tutorials, community gardens and tours) and mutual support groups for people with mental or physical illnesses.
5. Don’t do a massive grocery shop, rather, get what I need for a day or two. This forces you to go out and get a few groceries 3-4 days a week. This has the added benefit of cooking with/eating fresh fruit, veggies and meat.
6. Make bookings! I love going to the theatre and the cinema. Booking tickets in advance can force you out of the house, lest you waste good money on something fun.
7. Make a list of all the things you enjoy doing when my mental health is good and give a copy to those in your support network. It can often be obsolete to say, ‘do something you enjoy’ to a depressed person as a symptom of depression is that you can’t think of something you could enjoy. This is where my list comes in handy, it reminds me (and others) of the activities that can get me out of the house/bed and will improve my mood – even if it’s a smidgen, it’s worth it.
8. Give yourself credit where credit is due and don’t be hard on yourself when you do stay in bed or the house all day. Learning to manage mental illness is a long learning process. Write-off a bad day and have an early night because tomorrow is a new day.
I’ll be the first to admit that balancing mental health strategies with physical illnesses can make this harder; for example, I’ve had non-stop dizziness for five days and can’t drive, leave the house or operate machinery (in this case some appliances/hot stovetop).
For these sick or flare-up days, my goal is to get out of bed, brush my teeth and eat my meals or watch Netflix while sitting in the sun. If I can add a shower, play with some pastels, paint, read, welcome a visitor, or walk to the mailbox, it’s a productive day.
Then when I get better, or my flare up ends, I’ll start leaving the house again.
What helps you get out of the house when you body is telling you otherwise?
When I start getting to know new people, and we move from acquaintance to friend, I’m pretty open about my life. The chronic pain is hard to hide as it is, but I also mention that I have depression, and if they ask, I don’t hesitate to say it’s been around for a loooooooooong time.
As I’ve settled in a new city, with a new job and meeting new people, I’ve been told multiple times that I’m the ‘happiest depressed person’ they’ve ever met, which amuses me, greatly. I don’t really understand what ‘happiness’ feels like, yet I seem to project it. After some reflection, I think I’ve worked out why.
But please don’t be mistaken…
I still battle with depression. I still have days where I cry all morning. I still have mornings where it takes all my energy reserves just to get out of bed. I still experience overwhelming with sadness. I still need patience, empathy, love, support, to take medication and participate in psychotherapy.
Accepting that I have a chronic mental illness doesn’t mean I have a defeatest attitude. I eagerly await the day I no longer have to deal with depression, acknowledging it may not happen in this lifetime.
You can’t compare me to other people you know with depression as everyone is on their own journey. Let’s be real, most people haven’t spent (approximately) 64% of their life learning the skills needed to be a high functioning. Instead, encourage them to seek appropriate, professional treatment; help them find mutual support; show them love through compassionate empathy and remind them that hope and healing from depression is possible.
It’s easy to lose interest in life when you’re consumed with pain, depression and other awful symptoms. I’ve found engaging with my illnesses and experience creatively very empowering.
You don’t have to be the next Van Gough, Ansel Adams, Sylvia Plath, PewDiePie or Alicia Keys to be creative. I have compiled a list if ‘creative’ things you can have a go at, even if you think you suck.
By creative, I mean expressing yourself in an imaginative, artistic, innovative, inspirational, personal or unique way. You can ‘creatively engage’ with your illness by using any creative medium to:
Here is a list of 30 ways you can engage creatively as another tool to help you manage your journey with chronic illness.
1. Go for a stroll in the park, a walk on the beach or simply sit in your sunny backyard and take a few pictures. Anyone can take a photo of the grass, a tree, a bird, the clouds and the sun on their phone. If you’re feeling a bit crazy, add your favourite filter.
2. Pick a photo you have taken, or download a free stock image and add the cheesiest quote you can find (or your favourite quote or verse from scripture.) You can use a photo editing program (like Photoshop or GIMP), a website (like Canva), or even Microsoft Word.
3. Type and print encouraging statements with fun fonts to put on your wall.
4. Print your favourite family or holiday photos and make a collage. If you’re renting and don’t want to risk ruining the walls with blue tac, you can get a whiteboard or cork-board. I spray painted an ugly room divider to use as a giant pin board. …or you could finally scrapbook those holiday and baby photos.
5. Give colouring-in a try. The adult colouring in fad has taken the world by storm, have you tried it yet? Buy one from Kmart or your local bookstore, borrow your child’s activity book or find a picture to print through a ‘Google Images‘ search.
6.Communicate with pictures. Visualise your how you feel and what it’s like to live with your illness and paint or draw it.
7. Experiment! Go crazy, painting, sketching and blending with different mediums. Most variety shops sell (oil, soft and hard) pastels, charcoal, (acrylic, watercolour and oil) paint and canvas pads. Experimenting is fun and can be a great distraction. On bad days I’ve been known to see how many shades of black, white and grey I can mix into one picture. When I’m feeling a bit more optimistic, I’ll play with colour.
8. I’m an awful drawer, but sometimes it’s fun to sketch. My favourite is creating stick-figure comics.
9. Too scared to try karaoke? You can now download karaoke apps onto your phone or tablet to take ‘singing in the shower’ to the next level.
10. Pick up the musical instrument you haven’t played in years. We all have a recorder hidden at the back of our wardrobe. My preference is the guitar – after 10 years I still can’t read music.
11. Write a song to share what it’s like having your illness and encourage others.
12. Don’t have a musical bone in your body? Try changing the lyrics to a song or nursery rhyme.
13. Create playlists for every occasion: to relax, feel like singing, angst, fight songs, etc.
14. Make up an interpretive dance – I can never go past Vanessa Carlton’s 1000 Miles.
15. Write a short story.
16. Create a character you can relate to and write a monologue, one-act play, radio script or a short film to explore and communicate the characters journey.
17. Start a journal/diary, blogging or (and you don’t have to edit and publish it for the world to see, but if you have a laptop with a webcam) a video journal.
19.Write a letter to yourself.
20. Turn statistics, research and (accurate) medical information into an infographic.
21. Put on an apron and be a MasterChef by cooking your favourite cuisine or experimenting with a classic dish.
22. Create the next ‘Paralympic Sport’ – if there is a physical activity/sport you love, but can no longer play it due to your illness, come up with an adaptation that fits your physical
23. Knit! You can never have too many scarves, beanies or comfort blankets. This beautifully adorable yellow teddy was made by Lee Miller.
24. Give your alter ego life and make a (sock) puppet.
25. If you’re a gamer and can code, create a game related to your illness – I dream of playing an arcade game called “The Angry Uterus.”
26. Design a personal tattoo (which is in no way a commitment to get a tattoo).
27. Make some (awareness) jewellery.
28. Design a t-shirt and wear your message. You can never have too many awareness t-shirts! (Although my mother would disagree.)
29. Get pretty and expressive, experimenting with makeup and nail art. This fantastic body art is by Kiley Inman.
30. Download a meme generator and amuse yourself.
If you can afford it, pick a hobby/skill and invest in some lessons. I’ve chosen to prioritise a half an hour singing lesson every two weeks into my budget. I then record the lesson so I can continue to practice between classes. It is both empowering and encouraging to see the progress/development of that still over time.
Ask others to get involved; sometimes it’s nice just to relax with a friend and have fun together. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine. I’ve also had friends with artistic talent sit down and teach me for no cost.
The most important thing to remember is not to be a perfectionist. It’s not about the finished product; it’s about engaging with your illness, disease or disability in a creative way. Short-term, being creative will help you relax, decrease tension and give you another way to communicate. The long-term benefits of developing this habit is often insight, acceptance and healing.
I’d love to hear from you!
Do you have anything to share?
Do you have anything to add the list?
Have you noticed the benefits of engaging creatively with your illness?
Yesterday during my GP appointment, my (female) doctor said, “Alex! I saw you in the coffee shop earlier, and I noticed you’re looking very pretty today. Have you done something with your hair?” It’s safe to say she made my day!
I have many people who have supported me as I’ve learnt to adjust to life with chronic illness – family, friends and health professionals. I’ve seen multiple GP’s in my life and three have stood out for me, one from each of the cities I’ve lived in since I left high school. Their non-stop encouragement, compassion, and validation have helped me survive a series of unfortunate events.
Dear Dr. Sydney, Dr. Lismore and Dr. Brisbane,
Thank you for validating me when I felt stuck in your revolving office door. There have been periods where I’ve seen you monthly, fortnightly and weekly and you never made me felt guilty for taking your time or like a burden. You probably have no idea the impact you’ve had on my journey through chronic illness, but these are a few of the things I thank you for as you validated me as a person and my experience as your patient.
Thank you for acknowledging your limits as a General Practitioner and referring me to health professionals who have more training and expertise. You were never offended when I sought other opinions, and your humility meant I was able to get accurate diagnoses and try new treatments. You showed me that an effective support network had many people and was multi-disciplinary. [Dr. Sydney,] I was stunned when you wrote a thank you letter to my naturopath for her insight and test requests that led to my PCOS diagnosis.
Thank you for listening to me. I may have left your office feeling hopeless (due to the nature of the chronic illness) and in tears many times, but I never left feeling unheard, ignored, uncared for or let down.
Thank you for respecting my dignity as an adult who can make her own decisions. Thank you for not pushing me to attempt risky treatments I was not prepared to try and acknowledging the research I had done on my own. Many times I came into your office, not as Ailment Alex, but as Advocate Alex, requesting a specific referral, treatment or test. Sometimes I was way off, but your encouragement empowered me to continue as an advocate and to keep opening new doors.
Thank you for not treating me like a drug addict or another ‘fat person.’ You never hid your shock when I shared horror stories with other health professionals. You also exercised great wisdom and respect as we managed my medication increases and decreases.
Thank you for being my friend. I don’t mean this in the creepy, dependent, unhealthy, unprofessional kind of way. You shared my disappointment when treatments didn’t work and celebrated the small victories, usually with more enthusiasm than I. You were often the person I spent the most time with (other than my family), and because you were holistic in your approach, you treated me like a person, not a patient.
Thank you for being practical. You understood my personal restraints, particularly transport restrictions and financial hardship. When possible, you gave me samples, helped me access the cheapest and most convenient options and always bulk-billed. Your efforts meant I could afford my healthcare, try different treatments and see new specialists that were often helpful.
Thank you for letting me cry and empathising with my pain, sorrow, grief, despair and the unfairness of my situation. I appreciate every time you agreed that my situation was unfair, saw me as a whole person, told me I didn’t deserve this and apologised when you had run out of tissues.
Finally, each of you said something to me that has stuck with me.
Dr. Sydney, when you, acknowledging we shared the same faith, asked to pray for me, then and there, you reminded me that although I felt isolated and hopeless, I wasn’t alone, and there was hope.
Dr. Lismore, when I came to you because my suicidal ideations had returned, you said, “I won’t give up until we get you better” (and you didn’t), you showed me I wasn’t alone, and there was hope.
Dr. Brisbane, when shared my insecurities that I felt like a hypochondriac because of a string of infections, you told me to “never apologise for looking after yourself. You know your body. If something feels off, never hesitate to see me.” You, again, reminded me that I wasn’t alone, and there was hope.
So, to these wonderful GP’s, thank you for acknowledging your limitations as a human, while giving me the dignity and respect I deserve as one. Thank you for using your role to bring hope and healing to a patient who needed it as they learnt to understand and manage their chronic illnesses.
Your Grateful Patient.
If you live in Sydney, Brisbane or the Northern Rivers (NSW) and looking for a good GP, feel free to message me and I’ll pass on the names.
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