Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A day in the life of Luke- early 20's, mechanic, owner of Bear the cat.....diagnosed as bi polar.

A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a young man named Luke. He asked me whether I knew much about what actually happens inside the head of a person suffering from depression, specifically bi-polar disorder. I was honest and said that while I know the facts about the illness, I know very little of the human element. His reply was to ask me if I thought my readers would be interested in finding out more. Again I replied, this time my reply was a simple one......yes.

Over the next week we exchanged details of what he would provide to me and I grew more and more nervous. Not because of him. I was in awe of this young man. The bravery of what he proposed was, and is, astounding. No, I was nervous because I was afraid of what he would eventually share with me. I knew it would be confronting, maybe scary. I also knew that I really needed to hear what he had to say.

I can write posts for days, weeks and months on suicide, depression and tackle the issue head on with facts, figures and peripheral human elements. What I can't do, is tell you what it's really like to suffer through a serious mental illness. He can.

Yesterday he sent me a message to let me know he was finished with his self assigned task. He had written a diary of sorts of just one average day in his week. The problem was, he couldn't send it. Fair enough I thought. It still amazed me that he had gotten to this point and I was already seeing through his eyes just based on the information he'd already given and the links and studies he'd suggested I look at. Armed with this much, I was preparing my post. I sent a message to let him know that I acknowledged how tough it would be to let me into his world in such an intimate way. I let him know that I was proud of him for understanding that most of us don't (and possibly can't) comprehend his daily struggle and for wanting to be part of the process of increasing awareness on the issue. That done, I set to work.

This morning, just before I posted my latest offering, I received a new message from him. He had hit the 'send' button. In my inbox was the most incredible glimpse into a full day in the life of a bi polar sufferer. I have read it, over and over again, and still it affects me. I considered briefly that I should edit the piece and correct grammar etc.....then decided that this was much better in it's raw form. It's more powerful because these words are his and he deserves to have them respected and acknowledged as being perfect. He has done exactly what he offered to do and I am very thankful to be the recipient.

So, here it is.....a day in the life of Luke, early 20's, mechanic, owner of Bear the cat, diagnosed as bi polar.

"Go to bed just feeling sad and don’t really know why

From waking up

Open eyes first thing that comes to mind is why did I have to wake up
Same feeling just unhappy don’t really know why again just don’t want to move alarm is going off, turn it off and roll over to look out the window feel sick just feel empty which feels like im hungry but i know im not

Have to go to work but just cant do it alarm keeps going off but i just hide it i don’t want to go, i don’t want to be seen just unhappy

Bear walks in and knows something is wrong and cuddles up under my chin this is the only time he does this makes me smile he is so cute, this is enough to get me out of bed but my legs just don’t want to walk this is what being so unhappy does to you i cant even get up, i do it takes me about 5 minutes as i start walking i just start crying i don’t know why i just hate the though of have to be seen i hate the thought of people looking at me knowing what is wrong with me. But even i know they don’t know how i feel but i feel when they look into my eyes they see my pain and judge me cause of it.

Still crying i just stand in front of the mirror looking at myself just hating how i look how i feel i just want the pain to leave me right now

Its the little things that people do everyday that i just cant do i feel so unhappy and so full of hate at myself that simple things like cutting my lunch i just look at the knife and think why don’t i just do it right here right now and i start crying again.

Once again i start to think straight again thinking shit what would bear do i mean who would look after him, i don’t want him to get upset that im gone and he is only a cat funny how i don’t think this way about my family and friends but i mean all he has known is me and like my family love me no matter what.

so i decide to go to work but this again starts it all over again things like walking outside to the garage cripple me at the back door and i just cant do it i go sit down on the lounge again and wait till the bad feeling leave. By this time im already late for work and that just brings hate into my head not at work but at myself for making myself late again.

I get so angry that i walk outside without thinking and push my motorbike out of the garage and out past the gate close the gate and garage and walk back inside and only then do i start to breath.

Time to put on all my riding gear which takes 5 minutes find bear to say goodbye and it floods back again what if this is the last time a say good bye to him well i better put out heaps of food and water for him just incase.

Time to leave walk outside ready to ride with my helment on so i don’t have to see anyone but still i warm my bike up i guess you do these things when your a mechanic, start to feel better cause this is what i live for i live for riding (and a cat).

Everything from here to work is routine i know which way i have to ride where all the bumps are on the road now i feel great i love this life how could i want this to end wow this is fun all this power all this speed.

And about half way to work it hits again the fun leaves and i start to look at things a little different i start to look at the trees down the valleys at the cliffs on the way and start to think again wow what would it feel like if i just hit that i mean would i feel it not at this speed no could i do it yeah why not just have to make sure i wont hurt anyone else but yeah i could do it i find myself start to count the places where on the way to work i could do it but then i think it would be better to do it at night less people to find me. And then i just cant do it i cant go to work i start crying again which is not good at 110kmh but why should i care it gets that bad i pull over and just sit on the side of the road, by now im over a hour late to work but at the same time why should i care all they have to do is get someone in to replace me they wont care.

I cant do it i have to turn around i just cant do it, i send i text to my manager with some bullshit like the bike wont start sometime its good living over 90ks from work its not like there going to come check up on me. So now i start riding home thinking what am i going to do the rest of the day .

By the time i get home im fine again and start to think should i go back to work nar by the time i get there it will be midday so no point.

So i put the bike away and now im happy its not cause im not at work i love work i have so much fun there its just cause im by myself again. So im happy now i can do what i want think i might finish working on one of my many project bikes so i go into the garage and sit down to think which one i should work on by the time i move again its about 2hrs later and i just cant do anything. I kind of look around like im trying to find something i need then i see it a rope and it all starts again i cant move all i can think of is tying a noose and throwing it over the beam in the garage but the work bench would be in the way once again i just cant do anything right.

I go inside don’t know why and bear looks at me and im alright again i hate this up and down feeling so i try and think of a way to be happy i mean i should start doing the things i have fun doing so i write it all down great a plan on how i can make myself happy ok lets do it.....or lets not 10 minutes late the paper is in the bin and im thinking how could i do those things i would stuff them up as well.
I spend the next 4 hours just staring out the window the only thing that stops me is bear is telling me he wants meat for dinner i realise its now dark outside i have been staring outside just thinking all these things my mind is racing but i couldn’t even see it was dark.

Dinner time great best the best time, i get bear his dinner otherwise he steals mine off my place which i hate but its cute watching him try, right cook dinner lets just sit down and work out what im having. By the time i work out what to have its about 10:30 at night once again all i was doing was sitting there my mind racing good thoughts bad thoughts wish they would just fuck off now i hate this i hate it so much fuck dinner whats food going to do to help me walk outside to make sure everything is locked up, i look up at the stars and start crying again thinking there is no one out there to talk to no one that will ever understand thats it. Once again i have been staring for about an hour and am tired now time to go to bed and once again hope i don’t wake up.

But once again i sit up till 3 in the morning just think of different ways to run away and hide should i go bush would bear be ok coming with me should i just fly somewhere and end it where no one would know or care.

Woke up on the lounge the next day................................"

Friday, June 17, 2011

Depression in young people.

It's been a while since my last post. This one has required a lot of reading and phone calls and research online before I felt comfortable making a legitimate post on the subject. It will be a long post I am afraid as I have a lot to say and would like to give the topic the justice it deserves. Some of the post comes from my experiences as a parent, some from a gut feeling I have but most is based on what I have learned from speaking to professionals and reading about the subject matter.

A little while ago I wrote a post on suicide in our youth and the appalling statistics we have in our region, most notably on the south side. This post garnered many, many e-mails, some giving information on the services available locally but most focused on one thing. Depression.

Several were from concerned young people wanting to know more about depression and it's signs. Some wanted to know more about what I thought the root cause of the rise in depression might be and many just wanted to know what we are doing wrong.

I am not, nor will I ever be, a trained doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. There is no substitute to calling a professional and asking them for help or assistance either for yourself or to enable you to support a friend or family member. I do not profess to hold the answers, nor will I attempt to guess but I have researched my little heart out and feel reasonably confident in voicing the following but am equally sure that these words will raise the ire of some. So be it. This is about speaking out and keeping the words 'depression' and 'suicide' in the public domain until solutions are found.

Our children are taught about their bodies and inappropriate touching from a very young age now. From just 4 years of age they are participating in programs which help to ensure that they are aware of their 'private' bits and feel comfortable in speaking out if their personal security is threatened. This program is delivered by professionals and is very successful in it's goal.

What it perhaps fails to recognise is that while it encourages children to take responsibility for their own welfare and empowers them in that way, it may also lead to them feeling like parts of their own bodies are taboo, even to themselves. At the same age, most of us were playing naked in the local streams and rivers. We had no inhibitions and no fear either. Inhibitions in very young children may help lead to insecurity in the same child as a teen. Poor body image is a known factor in depression, particularly amongst girls. Is this program the beginning of low self-esteem?

At age 5 they are starting school and parents suddenly become the great protector. The enemy? Bullies. As parents we know that the school yard is the breeding ground for most adult bullies and our aim is to protect our children from them. The schools all have anti-bully programs and each one is reporting some success.

Somebody said to me recently that when they went to school there were nerds, sports stars, arty types, loners and the 'cool kids'. To survive school they simply found others with the same 'affliction', formed a group and enjoyed having a place they could just be themselves. By stamping out bullying and encouraging our kids to have the same reactions to every moment, are we stifling their individuality and teaching them all to conform?

While we work hard in the school environment to ensure that every child is educated in an individual way to allow them to reach their full potential, we are encouraging their social skills into a conformist, narrow line of conduct. For those children who do not fit into that mould, instead of letting them be shy, loud, quirky or anxious, we put them through programs that will make them confident, well spoken, 'normal' and unemotional. Is this programming the beginning of low self-esteem by making children feel 'weird' about the fact that they are different?

At the same time as this is occurring at school, parents are now scared of abductors and paedophiles and every action they do for their child bears this in mind. Children no longer ride their bikes through the suburb and if they do have parents that allow that, we call the children hoods and their parents lazy.

I let my nine year old daughter walk down to the shop a few weeks ago (which is about 150 metres return)to get some milk. I was very proud of her for completing the journey on her own and for doing it so quickly. She was beaming with pride as she recognised that we trusted her to make safe choices and were willing to let her take some responsibility for that. When I mentioned it to friends they were horrified. I felt like a terrible mother who had severely neglected my own child. Of course, in hindsight, I realised I hadn't. And she has made the trip again several times.

The case of Daniel Morcombe and his parents relentless push for childhood security has created a fear that is not justified. Daniel was the exception, not the rule. It is a very, very unlucky parent who has to go through what they have gone through. In the years since his apparent abduction, there have been no cases that I could find of a child being abducted by a stranger in Queensland.

When my son was three he disappeared in Cairns Central near Myer. I was with two other mums and their sons and my boy was nowhere to be found. As the time grew longer while we searched for a sign of his whereabouts, my first thought was not that he had been stolen, it was the fear that he may have gone to the car park and at that age he was not traffic savvy. All those who helped us search though, were worried he'd been abducted. The fear that 'bad people' are everywhere just waiting for you to take your eye off your child for a second, is a real one, but without any basis in fact. We found him of course, in the cinemas, having a wonderful time without a care in the world. Cheeky bugger. After the lecture that followed, he has lived the next 3 years of his life without disappearing again. Are we over-protecting our children? Is this the stage in life where their self-esteem suffers most because we project our own fears onto them?

The conflict between empowering them with the knowledge of what is okay and what is not as far as their own little bodies are concerned and in the playground when confronting a bully, then forcing them to stay by your side for the next 10 years without moving more than three steps away must surely result in confusion.

Then they grow a little more and reach high school. At this point all of the programming is thrown out the window. Children are expected to have reached the point where they are capable of making decisions with confidence, they are capable of speaking out when threatened, they are capable of fitting in and they are capable of balancing their home life, school work and social network. Add advanced skills in technological advancements and these kids should be ready to take on the world. Fairly obviously, they aren't.

Hormones have a lot to answer for and in this instance they are often the final trigger. Having been taught for so many years about emotional stability only to have your emotions meandering about, completely out of your control, is frightening. Control of your body as a very young person was paramount to survival...suddenly it's near to impossible. All of the things you were taught were wrong and were trained to avoid are now an everyday occurrence. Nobody tells you it's okay to have a bad day, it's okay to get angry and it's okay to feel uncomfortable in your own skin. Plenty is taught about the physical changes of puberty but the emotional aspects are simply glanced over. Then they are suddenly bombarded with advertising telling them that there is something wrong with them. They are too fat, too thin, nose too big, too small....and it's shoved down their throat. Both sexes have to deal with it now. Add in an uneasy relationship with a parent, guardian, peer or sibling (sometimes all of the above) and there should be no surprise when the result is depression.

The facts are these......mental health problems will affect one in four young people during adolescence. The real statistic may be even higher as this is based on known instances. Seventy-five percent of young people will NOT seek help for their depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability among 15 to 25 year olds in Australia, far ahead of road traffic accidents.

So, what is depression? The following is a depression checklist, taken from Beyond Blue that will indicate whether a young person is depressed, or just having a bad day.

Have you, for more than TWO WEEKS:

1. Felt sad, down, miserable most of the time?
2. Lost interest or pleasure in most of your usual activities?

If you answered 'YES' to either of these questions, continue through the list. If you answered 'NO' to both questions it is unlikely that you have a depressive illness.

3. Lost or gained a lot of weight? OR Lost or gained appetite?
4. Sleep disturbance?
5. Felt slowed down, restless or excessively busy?
6. Felt tired or had no energy?
7. Felt worthless? OR Felt excessively guilty? OR Felt guilty about thing you should not be feeling guilty about?
8. Had poor concentration? OR Had difficulty thinking? OR Were very indecisive?
9. Had recurrent thoughts of death?

Add up the ticks for your total score.

Assuming you answered 'YES' to questions 1 or 2; 4 or less ticks means you are unlikely to have a depressive illness, 5 or more means you are likely to have a depressive illness.

Please note that this is not a diagnosis. You will need to see a professional for that, it is simply an indication that you, or the person you are thinking of, needs to consult help.

So, lets say you ticked all the boxes and you are worried you may need further help. How do you do it? Go to your GP. Ask for a long appointment during a quiet time of day so that you can have adequate time to discuss your concerns. If you find that you are not comfortable with the GP you have met with and did not feel that they were helpful to you, find another one. There is no harm in shopping around as depression is not a quick fix illness and you may need further visits to re-negotiate a plan.

Once you have found a good doctor create a plan with their help. They will recommend several specialists for you. They may be psychologists or psychiatrists and either will be able to help in the process of recovery. Again, it's important to find one you are comfortable with and the recommendation is two visits before you decide if that particular person suits your needs. Often the first visit is quite nerve wracking and any decision made after the initial visit may be premature.

Family and close friends can help with recovery but again, the specialist is the best person to advise on how that may be best applied. It has not been proven that anti-depressives are effective for young people when treating depression and it is best to avoid them if possible. The best course of treatment is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and all Psychiatrists and Psychologists are trained in this method. Essentially, it is the process of learning how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, basically a think positive approach. It's a learned behaviour though and requires planning and teaching so it's unfortunately not as simple as saying to yourself "Think positively and stop worrying so much".

I hope that the information I have given is helpful to all those who asked the questions. This is an issue which I believe needs more of a spotlight put on it and less negativity associated with it in order for statistics to change. My earlier thoughts on possible causes for the spike in depression and suicide in our youth may not be the whole picture and they may not be studied fact but they are based on what I learned about depression and the early stages of this illness so I believe they do have merit. That part will be up to you to judge however, and I am sure you will.