livingwithablackdog

sit. stay. good boy.

When the Mallee Bull’s Away … 24/08/2011

In recent years I have developed a fierce respect for my health.  Not only my mental health – but my physical health.  Whereas before I had little patience for the times when I was sick, there are times now when I fear it.  When I am sick I just use more sick days at work – which raises more questions and more suspicion: “what is really going on?”.  I feel disgusting.  I break all of my carefully laid down routines and maintenance plans.  I have to take more tablets. And all too often it drags on for too long thanks to poor immunity and a system that’s already struggling with every day and brings me – if not to relapse, then certainly to the brink.

When I am sick, the dog often thinks he is allowed to play.

It makes sense.  There is less energy to be on top of my game with my thinking, so if I’m not ultra careful I do forget to reality test my thoughts.  I get lazy and don’t practice mindfulness.  My appetite is lacking, so unless there is someone else cooking for me and serving up nutritious food, I’m not eating well.  I’m exhausted and sleeping all the time and not maintaining my routine.  I’m too sick to exercise.  My medication is going in – but that’s about the only maintenance activity that is actually happening – and if I have a gastro bug even that gets out of kilter.

Short term bugs aren’t so bad.  A day or two and I get back on top of my game without too many problems.  No, the one that I hate most of all is surprising to some people.  The thing I dread most is the common cold.  It drags on forever.  It saps my energy.  It robs me of the desire to prepare decent food, to look after the house, to keep much of a routine.  Sound like anything else you know?  I live in fear that the head cold will go to my chest and then I will finish up coughing for weeks on end which leads to fear of aggravation of an old back injury – and so my thoughts become dominated by dismal and negative themes and the black dog leaves his rightful position at heel and begins to circle again.  Thus it is that I find that a cold, if I can’t get rid of it quickly can be a trigger for relapse.

So – what do I do?  I stay rested.  I eat well.  I have my flu shots – which I know some find controversial – and that there are also people who are not convinced that this helps, but as a health worker I find that it has left me less vulnerable and in Australia health workers get them for free.  I wash my hands regularly and use hand disinfectant.  I dress to the climate.  I’ve given up rain walks in cold weather.  Some people use vitamins, but to be honest I couldn’t face taking any more pills and don’t want to spend the money and would rather just eat the vegetables.  I try to avoid spending a lot of time with people who are sick.  If you look back a couple of posts to ‘Beyond Medicine‘, you will find that these are the things that will keep you physically healthy as well as mentally healthy.  If you want to keep the bugs at bay these are the things you go to.  Some I have already mentioned, but lifestyle habits and strategies that reduce stress are also important.  Support is important.  Hope is important.  Sunshine is important.  Recognising the early warning signs and triggers of physical illness is important.  Our mental health and physical health are inextricably linked.

If I get a cold, I do start taking cold and flu tablets early when I get symptoms of a cold – particularly at night, and I use airway clearing aromatherapy oil before I go to sleep so that I can breathe clearly.  I also sleep propped up slightly.  Usually these things stop the cold from getting to my chest.  Usually.

This year has gone well so far.  I’ve stayed mentally well enough while I’ve been sick that I’ve still been able to use my mindfulness and cognitive behavioural techniques to keep the dog in line, so he hasn’t really challenged – even when some of the other important stuff has fallen by the wayside.  It’s still going to involve work to get the rest back in place, but hopefully not as much as usual.  So just for the moment while I get a bit better…

Sit, Dog… Sit.

 

Planning with Purpose 21/08/2011

In my last entry I wrote about going back to work.  I also made brief reference to having a need for some kind of productive activity if I wasn’t.  One of my regular readers made a comment that spoke directly to something really important.  The need for purposeful activity.  Not necessarily work – but activity that is goal directed and meaningful to you.  Activity in which you are setting out to achieve something that you are interested in achieving.  It doesn’t need to be paid activity, but it needs to provide you with a sense of purpose and achievement.  This reader suggested that – but for the expense of living, she would not even care so much about paid work as long as she had purposeful activity.  I have to say that I agree.  Sound odd?  It’s one of the biggest problems people have when they retire.  Not having planned for their need for purposeful activity.
The thing is – people have an innate need to do something.  Preferably something they value and something that is purposeful.  All you have to listen to one of the things that we complain about.
“I’m bored”, “There’s nothing to do”
“What’s the point of this?”, “This is a waste of time!”, “I hate doing this.”, “I’d rather …”, “I’m sick of doing this”, “None of this does anyone any good”
“When am I ever going to use this?”, “No-one’s going to look at it …”, “All I did was sit and look at the …”
Examination of research into the presentation of people with long-term unemployment and people with Depression actually show a lot of similarities.  Things like loss of routine, beginning to neglect personal appearance, poor diet, lack of activity, sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep habits, loss of motivation, social isolation, loss of self-esteem …
Of course for many there are possibly crossover elements of situational depression, however it is interesting to note that the lack of purposeful activity can have such a strong effect.  A study that I heard presented followed up some people some of whom pursued work – some full-time, some part-time; some of whom pursued volunteering.  The outcome – purposeful activity made an enormous difference to quality of life.
But other studies show that it does not even need to be work related.  Simply valued and purposeful – and it will improve quality of life and wellness.  Take up gardening.  Build a doll house for a kid.  Join a gym or walk somewhere every day.  Volunteer at a local charity, Church or club.  Write a book.  Go to a local community centre and check out the programme.  Do a course on something that interests you.  Join a book club.  Start meeting a friend for coffee regularly.  Take up cooking.  Invite a friend over for dinner.  Try that sport you always wanted to try – talk a friend or family member into coming with you if you like.  See if you can find some old friends you’ve lost contact with – you might be surprised how many want to catch up.  Try that hobby you always wanted to take up.  Research your genealogy.
Purposeful activity.  This is what forms the building blocks.  This is where a healthy routine can be built.  This is where a healing routine can be built.  Research says it works.  My training says it works.  My observations of the people I have worked with as a mental health worker say that it works.  My experience of healing says it works.
 

It Works For Me 14/08/2011

In every culture there are certain norms.  Rules if you like.  What type of food people eat, the structure of families and social networks, the kinds of things that people do, our attitudes to authority and among other things our attitude to work.  In most western cultures the attitude is that you’re supposed to engage in it – but it’s also something to complain about.  The idea is to have a lot of other things you’d rather be doing.  Work, school all things regarded as ‘compulsory’ are often seen as restrictive.

I returned to work recently after a long absence from the workforce.  The initial period was due to a nasty relapse of depression.  Most of the months were while human resources were getting their act together pushing me through ‘independent’ doctors who were giving clearance for graded return to work plans all the while saying that the doctors had not said that I was not fully fit for duties.  It reeked of them trying to get rid of me.  Alas for HR, they failed.  I got back in.  What is more I got another job which I will start next week  and was offered others while they were stuffing around – with disclosure about my depression.  But enough on that.

Some of the Benefits of Productive Activity and Work

My return to the workforce has brought one thing to my attention in a stunning way.  I love going to work.  Sure there are some tasks that I could do without.  But on the whole, work is something that I need.  While I was off, I had to work hard to manufacture work for myself in the form of projects and I enjoyed them a lot.  But it feels good to be doing something productive.  To see people and say “hello” to them and pass the time of day with them.  And that’s before I’ve even gotten my first pay!  And to be busy.  I am enjoying being busy.

I am really fortunate this time too.  My latest medication regime is leaving me non-drowsy.  My attention is better in the morning than the afternoon – so I will have to gear my day around doing the close work that needs that kind of focus early, but otherwise things are looking good.  I am well.  The dog has gotten the message that he needs to stay at heel and not strain on the lead.  At the moment I am tired at the end of the day.  Very tired, but I am convinced that in the coming weeks this will pass. Some of this has been helped by the fact that I am not starting cold.

I am convinced that my determination to keep busy with projects that required concentration, busyness and maintenance of a routine while off work has helped enormously with this, because in this too the dog was given little space to roam free on my time and thoughts.  He essentially had to stay out of the way.

People, let me say that I am a convert.  I believe that people need work – not necessarily paid work – but productive activity of some description to keep them feeling like they are moving and breathing.  I believe that work brings freedom with it.  Sure there is a need to have support and watch your early warning signs.  Sure there are unpleasant tasks.  Sure there are jobs that you would prefer over others.    But work – work is grand!

 

The Jealous Dog 22/07/2011

If there’s one thing that discourages a jealous dog, it’s competition.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Of course like everything that sounds simple there’s a journey involved in getting to the bit that’s simple.  And at times the times the ‘simple’ bit is anything but easy.

If you were to tell me in the depths of my depression that competition was all that was needed to discourage the dog – that having other, more enjoyable things around me would make life easier to manage I would probably knock you flat.  And I hit ‘like a girl’.  When I am unwell they probably do knock the edges off things, but enjoy … ? Perhaps.  I certainly need help to initiate the diversion and the routine.  Ah … the old ‘r’ word.  Yes, I must admit – it does help.  I just hate it.  I never feel like it and it’s damn hard to do.  Especially when I still lack the sense of enjoyment of anything.

But further on – about eight months ago I gritted my teeth and reestablished contact with a long-lost world.  The friend.  The ones I lost contact with during a couple of years of withdrawing from – well – life in general.  Initially it was very tentative.  After all – who would really want to be friends with me, right?  But no, contrary to my very localised opinion friends welcomed me back with enthusiasm … on-line, phone calls, coffees, visits and finally a trip to see someone who lived a long way away for a few days (I was very nervous about this one) which was lots of fun.  I now have friends who I talk to again regularly and see when our schedules allow it, an old school friend I catch up with regularly, friends kids who are excited when I come to visit and people who miss me if I’m not around.  I never thought I’d see the day.  I’m still not sure I believe it.  By rights I should have black and blue spots up and down my arms from where I have been pinching myself but if it’s not true, I’m not planning to end the dream any time soon.

Today is my first day at home after a couple of weeks on holidays – staying with the same friends that I visited earlier in the year.  I was originally going for a few days, but the family with whom I was staying voted unanimously that I should stay longer – so I did.  I visited with other friends and their families on the way home, including one family not far from home where I stopped in filthy weather with an hour’s notice to drop onto their couch for a night.

Amidst all of this my dog stayed at heel without challenge.  This is amidst ongoing bungles with a return to work plan that has been drawn out for months.

My dog is shy around people who value me.

I need to remember this next time he pulls me in close to home.

A black dog needs a little competition from people who care.  He just wants me to believe that there aren’t any.  I did once and it turned out to be a lie.  I must remember this for another day.

My dog lies.

 

 
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