whatever you do…..

Yul Brynner from ‘ The King and I‘ once said “whatever you do, just don’t smoke”. For 20 years dad quoted Brynner. For 20 years I ignored him.

Smoking was my security blanket. I didn’t care about the cost or health risks, I just felt I needed to smoke to stay calm, to help me socialise, to clear my head, to dissipate my anxieties. I rationalised it.

I had tried quitting a few times but would end up in hysterics and run straight back to hide under that safety blanket of smoke. I was not a quitter.

For my studies I have to go down to dreaded Sydney for seminars, some 2 day seminars. So I needed to stay overnight in a hotel or at my sisters. It was always a hassle to find somewhere to smoke.

After booking two 2 day seminars coming up in June, I realised I was spending more time worrying about smoking than transport, money, food or even TV.

On April Fools Day 2017 I decided it was time to stop being a slave. I gave all my ciggies, ashtrays and lighters away and started a QuitBuddy app to help me. I got some nicotine gum and even did some research on quitting. This was it. 

A week in, I was doing so well I got a haircut. Then after months of being happily single I decided that as a distraction from the ciggies I would go back online to find a mate. And now I could open my search to non smokers. Within a few days I was talking to a few men, mostly repulsive sex addicts looking to score, but one shone through. 

Pea seemed great. He was an ex-smoker so he was really supportive and gave great advice on avoiding triggers. He was so sweet to me and we talked every day and night for hours about anything and everything. He made it clear he wasn’t after a one night stand.

He turned out to have BiPolar too so on top of heaps of commonalities there was a total understanding of our shared mental illness. 

The past few years of online dating I have shut off emotions and not let myself get attached or plan ahead, knowing it was always unlikely things would go well. But I started to build hope and trust and a bit of a crush on this Sweet Pea. We would always say how similar we were and say we were ‘two peas in a pod’. We were adorable. But we still had to meet to make sure there was a spark.

So after 3 weeks of intense ‘getting to know you’ and my month free from smoking – which was easier than I thought and I had started to run, well jog, with my dog several times a week, we finally met. I drove down to his ‘hood and we went to a big playground park thing in Mt Druitt and walked and talked and laughed, we held hands and even had a little kiss. We talked about our next date for 2 days later; he would come up to my place and we would go for a walk and eat dinner, he asked about times and trains and seemed really excited.

Then it was time to say goodbye with another kiss and that was it, the perfect date. I was buzzing. Halfway home my phone beeped, I smiled like a little school girl thinking he already missed me. I pulled over to read it. Yeah, so men are shit!

Pea: “before this gets more involved i just want to let you know that i just want to be friends, thats all. I am not ready for a relationship sorry but i will always be your friend”

                                      WHAT THE FUCK ???

Me: “i dont get it I thought we got along really well and wanted the same things”

Pea: “I just feel like it wont work and dont want to take it further yeah your amazing but i just want to be friends”

I was in shock. I felt the sting of tears and I started the car and drove to the nearest petrol station, bought a packet of cigarettes and a lighter and went round the side and lit up. Without even thinking about it. Without debating should I, shouldn’t I. It was instinct. I would never have made it home without it.

I wasn’t upset about not being with the boy; there were things that wouldn’t have worked, but why lead me on? Why kiss me? Why hold my hand? Why make plans? None of it made sense. But smoking did.

So 33 days I lasted as a non smoker. Longest in 20 years. But sadly I went back to my crutch, my security blanket, the second I couldn’t handle something.

That night my best friend, Bookmark came over to check in and we chain smoked til she left. The following day another close friend, Goldilocks came over and we doubley chain smoked.

I felt so good. This felt so natural. I didn’t know if I would give up again or just go back to smoking.

Then a few interesting things happened. 

Whilst I had quit, apart from being able to run, I didn’t notice much Health improvement and didn’t know if it was worth losing my ‘calm’

Now, when I had 2 days of smoking things were coming back.

I have had diarrhoea for as long as I remember, we tried all different diets and some pills but nothing. A week into quitting I was shitting like a ‘normal’ person. 2 days of smoking and the toilet is my second home again.

The second day of smoking again I got a ripping headache. I get migraines and headaches all the time. But it just hit me that I didn’t during the time I wasn’t smoking.

Both headaches and diarrhoea can be caused by dehydration. The cigarettes have been sponging fluid from my body and drying it out.

So quitting didn’t show me as much I am now learning by smoking again. And now I have more ammo, more reasons to quit and stay quitted.

The warning labels on the smoking packets show a black lung or a brain bleed, those things will happen but not right now. Mention how many trips to the toilet a cigarette can cause or the mind numbing headaches they create. Those are happening right now. Those can go away within a week of quitting. My lungs are already fucked, I have most likely lost ten years of my life but that doesn’t make me wanna quit. I have spent around $5k a year, for 20 years smoking (thats a house deposit literally up in smoke) and somehow that doesn’t make me want to quit. But knowing now that I won’t be on the loo all the time and my head won’t pound like a drum everyday. Yes thanks I think I will ditch the smokes.

So the boy helped me stay a non smoker for a month, messed me around, caused me to go back to smoking; which led me to learn these new things that will help me quit again. See everything happens for a reason.

Thanks Pea, you Peas of shit.

Radio Interview

Ela Simon was interviewed for station 3CR by Brainwaves Radio Show, which is sponsored by the Mental Illness Fellowship.

Ela discussed her two books ‘The Bi-Polar Express’ and ‘Panic Stations along The Bi-Polar Express’ which she co-wrote with her bipolar daughter Natasha.

Ela was interviewed by Chiara who asked about the family relationship between the bipolar carer and bipolar sufferer and between other members of the family.

The interview was broadcast on May 3, 2017 and the podcast can be heard at
http://www.3cr.org.au/brainwaves/episode-201705031700/bi-polar-express-ela-simon

Suicide – by Natasha

WARNING: This chapter may have some triggers.

13 Reasons Why‘ has brought up many conversations about bullying and suicide. There are many chapters in my books ‘The Bi-Polar Express‘ and ‘Panic Stations along The Bi-Polar Express‘ about bullying but not enough about suicide.

Writing this chapter about suicide brings up some painful memories and feelings. But maybe that’s the point.

It’s hard to talk about, but it should be hard to talk about, but it also should be talked about.

Everyone gets sad or questions the point of life but when you are so lost and filled with darkness, when all seems so hopeless and you feel worthless, when you are numb to it all and you just want it to stop – your mind may wonder down that dark and dangerous path of suicidal thoughts. A place you may feel is the point of no return. A lonely place that makes you feel like there is only one way out.

I have been to that place, more than once. I hit rock bottom and tried to bow out. I am grateful I was unsuccessful, most days. It’s hard and I get sad very often but I try not to spiral too far down and let the world get on top of me.

I am not Hannah Baker.

There is hope and if you can just hold on another day you will be one step closer to finding your way out of the darkness.

How have you found a way up and out?
What are your coping strategies?
What keeps you fighting?

If you are currently suicidal please talk to someone: a friend, family, doctor, anyone, …
Call Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24hrs a day in Australia)

Loving BiPolar – by Natasha

Loving someone with BiPolar can be a challenge just as someone with BiPolar can find it challenging to love.

From my experiences, there are several BiPolar traits that impact the way I love:

Self-Sabotage is the main one. When something feels too good to be true, I feel it must be. So, I must destroy it before it can destroy me. I push people away before they can push me away. Even if they were never going to – it was all my paranoia that they would leave because so many others have left.
Attachment is a big problem. As Pink said “Please, please don’t leave me”. When I find someone, I feel a connection and I hold on for dear life, I’m so scared of losing them; I squeeze so tight I suffocate them and they end up leaving anyway.
I love hard and fast. I love all or nothing. I love in black and white on down days and in hyper colour on up days. I love and I get broken. I feel unlovable most times but I’m just an acquired taste, a unique soul and one day someone will not just be able to handle me, but will love me the way I am; BiPolar and all.

My OCD – by Natasha

Technically OCD fits into the anxiety category but I felt it deserved its own chapter.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder comes in many forms.
• Excessive and repetitive cleaning
• Constantly checking things, like to see if doors are locked or oven is on (maybe check oven is off)
• Unrealistic negative reoccurring thoughts
• Everything having its place
• Counting
• Hoarding
• Having an irrational sense of disgust concerning sexual activity

I only have very mild OCD. The depression keeps me out of the shower most days, so cross off cleanliness. I’m not a hoarder or a counter.

I become very obsessed with an idea or a target I have to reach or even a person and will repeat the same actions or conversations over and over in my head or in life and I don’t listen to Einstein.

I have everything in its place and while my room may look messy, I know where every little thing is and which way it was facing. If one thing is moved I get freaked out and have to put everything back in its place.

I like to colour coordinate things and somethings alphabetically. DVDs are in genre and my clothes are summer to winter.

When I use a public toilet, I have to use the same cubicle I used the last time, like at the cinema it’s the first on the right; every time. The same cubicle at trivia and same at Coles. I get quite irate if someone is in there and if I can hold it, I wait, otherwise……..

I often have unrealistic negative thoughts, although the Zombie apocalypse is totally on the way.

I spend a while, but not an obsessive amount of time, thinking about if I locked the door and turned the oven off, not so much the iron because I don’t iron.

I didn’t realise my disgust towards sex was linked to my OCD but it makes sense cause it’s icky and messy and mostly unpleasant.

Thank you BeyondBlue for your insights.

My Anxiety – by Natasha

Anxiety comes in many forms for me.

Social anxiety – the thought of big crowds (more than 3 people) makes my heart race and my hands shake. I fear I’ll do something or say something stupid or I’ll get crushed by the crowd or I’ll have to make small talk. Oh, and phone calls. Can’t do it. Won’t do it. I am so anxious about what they may ask me that I feel like I may throw up.
General anxiety – little things can set me off; a mean comment, a name from my past, day to day living. I sweat a bit more and the heart rate again goes up. My head gets foggy and my eyes get watery.
Full blown Panic Attack – it starts like the first 2 but gets worse. My throat closes so it feels like I can’t breathe, hysterical tears flow from my puffy eyes, my heart feels like it will beat out of my chest, I can’t talk, I can’t move, I am crippled and broken and lost. I can’t see. I can’t think. I can’t catch my breath. It feels like a heart attack and you know you have to breathe but you can’t so you panic more. Panic attacks pass quicker than mania or depression but they are scarier.

It is odd that when in a panic attack I am so worried about dying that I get more worked up, but when I am depressed I want to die and when I am manic, I feel like nothing can kill me.

They say depression is about the past and anxiety is about the future. Leaving mania to be about the present?

But sometimes I get depressed about the future. And sometimes I get anxious about the past mistakes I’ve made. And now I don’t get manic because of my friend Lithium.