My Big Black Bear

My first experience with depression was with post-natal depression after Michelle’s birth in my late twenties, but not until my mid forties did depression visit me again. I sank into a dark and deep depression. After 25 years, I was no longer happy working in the high-powered and stressful computer field and the onset of early Menopause was attacking my entire physical being. I bled for months with no cure. I had 2 curettes but got no cure. I was over-sensitive to any unkind comment, especially about my weight and went berserk if the kitchen was messy. My poor girls and Peter were afraid to make a sound. I would scream and shout for no reason, I spent days in the bedroom, unable to resist the magnetic pull of my bed, the safety of a dark, quiet room. I was paralysed emotionally and contemplated how many Mersyndols® would do the trick. I couldn’t lift my arms.

It may be that this experience helped prepare me for – and ultimately have a better understanding of – the bouts of depression which in time would become a debilitating part of Natasha’s life. That feeling that everything, no matter how small, is insurmountable. The smallest of tasks is huge. Get out of bed and have a shower – impossible. Unstack the dishwasher – you must be out of your mind. Call a friend or accept a phone call – can’t be done.

I felt trapped, I was trapped, I couldn’t see a way out. I could not cope with my job, with looking after my family or with life. I felt helpless and suicidal, I kept planning to jump in front of a bus. I wanted it all to end. I wanted to end it all.

Winston Churchill called this state ‘The Black Dog’ – but dogs cheer me up, especially scruffy brown Terriers. (I have 2 and their little brown faces fill my heart with joy.) I felt like one of those big bears trapped in cages in Asia, shown on the heart-wrenching ‘Cruelty to Animals’ brochures, with such sad eyes, hopeless, helpless, enslaved by the cruel world. (Bears hibernate through winter. Maybe they are depressed?) So I call my depression a Black Bear.

Peter dragged me to a new GP, (who was recommended by a friend), whose response to my personal problems was an insulting and simplistic “Can’t you quit your job?” “No, I can’t, I have a large mortgage”, I replied. “You think you have a large mortgage – I guarantee mine is bigger!” was the best consolation/medical assistance he could offer. Such compassion, such understanding. Such bed-side manner. Such professionalism.

I didn’t go to him again. I needed a correct medical diagnosis and emotional support, not backchat from a patronising git.

I tracked down the female GP whom I used to see until she left the medical surgery near us to start her own practice. Peter dragged me to her holding my hand all the way. She immediately diagnosed Clinical Depression and advised that, until I regained my mental balance, Peter should be in charge of all my decisions. (I was unable to make any rational decisions). Thank God for a sympathetic woman. She recommended that I see a Psychiatrist and prescribed anti-depressants. Three different types were tried until we found Efexor®, which turned out to be my miracle drug. The GP never gave up and I still go to her regularly and talk about my life and problems. She saw me through the crisis and I will always be grateful for her care, patience and dedication.

Years later, remembering how long and severe my period of mental instability was, I asked Peter why he stayed with me instead of opting for an easier and quieter life. He said “you were wounded and I had to look after you”. What a wonderful partner. What a lucky girl I am.

I quit my computer job and took a less demanding one in a friendlier, family environment.

The depression slowly lifted but the bleeding was only stopped by taking HRT drugs. Again, a few were tried until the right one was found. Menopause has continued for me for 7 years but now it is reduced to only the odd hot flush and occasional night sweat. I’m still taking Efexor®.

I have been to two very good psychologists, one of whom I am still seeing. She makes me calm and is teaching me to concentrate on ME, my need for time out, for peaceful times. Unfortunately, therapy is a very expensive exercise – the associated financial stress can counteract the psychological benefits. It is outrageous, misguided and socially irresponsible – not to mention economically illogical, considering the long-term cost of mental health care – that private health insurance will pay for Weight Watchers’ programs and refund the cost of Reeboks but not for mental health professionals. There are refunds for physiotherapy but no refunds from Medicare or private health insurance, for those seeking help from a psycho-analyst. Many years ago the Government closed mental health facilities and offered no alternatives. It now expects the families of the mentally-ill to provide emotional, physical and financial support.

 

This is a chapter from ‘The Bi-Polar Express‘ book published in 2007. Mental Health services have improved since these events.

When She Wants to Die

When my daughter came to me in tears one day and said “Mum can I please just go? I can’t do this anymore” panic raced across my mind. And the ridiculous notion, despite understanding suicidal thoughts and depression, that I would say, “Of course darling, go right ahead,” was just that, ridiculous.

 

The panic I feel when checking her room in the morning/afternoon. Is she still ok? Suicidal thoughts never far from her mind. If I’m away for a couple of days, what will I find when I return. I try pointing out the good things she has in her life and distract her from the negatives. Sometimes she is too deep into the darkness to hear me. But if I listen and tell her I love her and need her she hears me and has at least one reason to stay and then we can look for more.

 

Long term depression and suicidal thoughts untreated are dangerous and people need help to get out of it. Talk to someone and please don’t feel suicide is the only option. There are much better options. Ever tried skydiving? Eating a Cheesesteak? Playing with goats? Swimming at 3am?

 

Just a few better options…

 

Please share some of your ideas on better options?

 

PARTE 1 – La corsa di Ela

Il Bi-Polar Express – La corsa di Natasha
Per tutta la mia vita sapevo di essere diversa, ero fuori posto. Ho sempre sentito che avrei potuto fare tutto, ma le cose non hanno mai funzionato per me: o mi deprimevo senza un motivo o diventavo iperattiva.
Quando leggerete il mio libro, potrete seguire gli alti e bassi, i colpi di scena, i picchi, i crolli, gli andirivieni, sempre più veloci, le montagne russe della mia vita Bi-Polare. Ma tenete bene a mente una cosa: voi potete mettere giù il libro e scendere dalle montagne russe…
Io no.
Il Bi-Polar Express – La corsa di Ela
Questa è la divertente, triste storia della ricerca fatta da una madre, sin dall’infanzia, attraverso l’adolescenza e oltre, della diagnosi corretta per la figlia “diversa”; cercando anche, disperatamente, di combattere con l’alienazione, i drammi e le crisi della ragazza.

Questo libro è per tutte le persone che conoscono qualcuno -un amico, un parente o un conoscente- con un disturbo mentale, e quindi praticamente per tutti. Leggete questo libro, sareste dei pazzi a non farlo.
PARTE 1 – La corsa di Ela
Di Ela Simon
Il ciclone colpisce Randwick
Era una pacifica mattina dell’aprile 1984 quando il Ciclone Natasha colpì la nostra tranquilla casa, in un piccolo e quieto vicolo cieco nel sobborgo di Randwick, Sydney. Con incredibile intensità, il caos che generò non durò minuti, ore o giorni, bensì anni. Ripulire e risistemare era inutile, perché il momento del round successivo sarebbe arrivato dopo ogni suo risveglio, quando avrebbe colpito di nuovo a piena potenza.
Eravamo del tutto impreparati per un assalto di questo tipo: dopo tutto eravamo dei genitori “esperti”. La nostra prima figlia, Michelle, sebbene fosse intollerante al latte, soggetta a coliche e piangesse spesso, era fin troppo prudente ed esitante, ordinata, metodica, affascinata dai libri e dalla cultura, “tutta orecchi” per le storie, aveva un codice di colori per gli elastici, i libri in ordine di altezza e una camera organizzata in modo sistematico; quindi ci domandavamo che cosa intendesse la gente quando diceva che nelle credenze erano necessarie delle serrature a prova di bambino. Fino a quel momento.

Recentemente trasferiti in una casa più grande, visto l’imminente arrivo della nostra seconda figlia, stavo rimuovendo la carta da parati in salotto insieme al mio compagno Peter, il papà di Natasha, quando iniziai a sanguinare. Da un’ecografia, che richiedeva una vescica piena di 2 litri d’acqua –“Oh, devo fare pipì, DEVO fare pipì” –, emerse una condizione nota come placenta previa. Normalmente la placenta, la quale dà sostentamento al bambino che cresce, giace al di sopra del bimbo nell’utero in modo che il piccolo possa emergere; ma in questo caso si trovava al di sotto, tesa, e bloccava il canale del parto. Come sarebbe venuto fuori il bambino? Costretta a letto per quattro mesi, comprese un paio di settimane in ospedale, stavo perdendo pezzi di placenta. Per lo più vegetariana, non ero entusiasta dell’aspetto da fegato. Natasha stava per caso facendo a pezzi la placenta per uscire?
Il mio ginecologo mi fece presente che questa condizione si verifica circa nel 20% delle nascite, altrimenti sarei quasi stata tentata a interpretarlo come un segno di quanto sarebbe accaduto: anche prima che nascesse c’era qualcosa di diverso in Natasha. Normalmente prima esce il bambino e poi la placenta, ma Natasha voleva essere diversa; e questa è diventata la storia della sua stimolante, triste, imprevedibile, maniacale e ansiosa corsa sulle montagne russe della vita.

Alla trentaseiesima settimana, mi stavo facendo la permanente (ERANO gli anni 80!) negli ultimi preparativi pratici per il parto. Il mio parrucchiere italiano Primadonna rimase comunque poco empatico quando iniziai a sanguinare su tutto il pavimento bianco e pulito. Una corsa in ambulanza (con la permanente risciacquata a malapena) preannunciava due settimane di ospedale nel tentativo di arrestare il sanguinamento, così da dare alla bambina la possibilità di mangiare e crescere ancora per un po’. I capelli erano un disastro di riccioli a metà. Non un bell’aspetto. Non erano ammesse visite!
Dopo un parto cesareo a 38 settimane, il 15 novembre 1983 nacque una bimba tonda e paffuta, di peso e altezza medi. Era bellissima, con una femminilità e una dolcezza che facevano venir voglia di toccarla e tenerla in braccio costantemente. Quel nasino piccolissimo, il volto angelico, quella morbida testolina pelata.
Una bambina apparentemente contenta: dormiva, mangiava, dormiva un altro po’ e mangiava ancora. Già in ospedale avevamo notato quanto amasse l’acqua. Un bagnetto apportava un rilassante piacere. Avevamo anche notato che non sopportava di essere costretta dalle fasce avvolgenti. L’infermiera l’avvolgeva stretta nella copertina, ma lei estraeva le braccine con grande
forza nel tentativo di liberarsi. Non anelava alla sicurezza che per la maggior parte dei neonati è data da una fasciatura stretta. Il nostro “spirito libero”. Questa piccina non avrebbe tollerato nessuna restrizione.
La portammo a casa dopo 10 giorni, alla vista del nostro splendido albero di Jacaranda in piena fioritura.
Per cinque mesi Natasha “dormì come un bambino”, svegliandosi ogni 4 ore per una poppata, giorno e notte. I pannolini bagnati non sembravano darle fastidio. Sarebbe stata felice di tenerne uno zuppo di pipì per giorni, se non fosse stato per il fatto che la sua pelle sensibile era motivo di eruzioni cutanee. I pannolini usa e getta non erano un’opzione. Come era di moda negli anni 80, a Natasha, al pari della sorella maggiore, fu diagnosticata la displasia dell’anca e per tre mesi dovette indossare il doppio pannolino.

 

Translation from English to Italian by Daniela Boi.

(Congratulations on graduating with your Degree in Translation and Interpreting (Languages: English and Spanish) at the Higher School for Linguistic Mediators “SSML Verbum” in Cagliari.)

PTSD

My father was a holocaust survivor. His PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was very understandable. His family lost their house to the Nazis. He never wanted to leave his house in Sydney and never allowed any tradesmen to enter his house for fear of being evicted. During WWII he was incarcerated in Labour camps, hid in kind people’s places. His father died in the ghetto at age 54, having starved to death. When my father turned 54, he was convinced that he will also die in that year. My father’s mum was shot by the Germans in a hospital so my dad would never go to hospital. If we ever took him to hospital, eg. after he fractured his hip, when we went back to visit, he had already discharged himself.

When the Germans were rounding up Jews from the Krakow Ghetto, his brother was selected. He asked my father to go and get him a cardigan. When my dad came back, the group was gone. His brother knew what was about to happen and spared my father the goodbyes. His whole, large extended family were murdered in the concentration camps, gased or burnt. So my father lost his whole family.

Later when I was a girl, my father was totally frantic if he didn’t know where any member of our family was; my sister and myself. He was very unpredictable and would come home very angry. Once he came home and threw my cat down from the first floor. Once I was late coming home after a walk with an older neighbour. My father hit me in the street, beating me over and over.

Was it the war, so scared to lose everyone? One day he came home and broke all the furniture. Not sure why. My poor mum, always trying to have everything done before he came home, homework finished, piano exercised but he would still get upset and irrational.

During the war for 5½ long years, there was no food. My dad was totally obsessed with food and lots of It. He bought tens of margarine containers, so he had to buy another fridge. He bought anything on special. In Poland you couldn’t find a lot of food, even after queueing for hours, before you got to the front of the queue there was nothing left to buy.

 

PTSD affected his whole life.

 

Some common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-living a traumatic event – like the war; starving, losing family.
  • Being overly alert or wound up – This was my dad to a ‘T’.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – not wanting to go to hospitals.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – I don’t know if he felt this because he rarely verbally expressed emotion.
  • People can have physical responses if reminded of the trauma – lash out anger like breaking the furniture or hurting us.
  • Negative beliefs, blame, insecurity, guilt and shame – only by my father’s actions can I see that these must have affected him.
  • Difficulty sleeping – my father would need to go on his exercise bike for hours before being able to sleep and then only slept for 2-3 hours.

 

There are other symptoms that can be warning signs, for more information go to beyondblue.org.au (where the above points were sourced) or seek professional help.

What are your PTSD symptoms or triggers?