J52: Just Write

Journal52, Week 11

Prompt: Just Write

I tried multitasking with this one. It is an art journal page for Journal52 and it is my psych homework. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist last Friday. I didn’t mention my declining mood but maybe I should have since it has only gotten worse. I thought it was just the usual up and down at the time. What we did discuss was work. I am having trouble dragging myself through it. I’m not sure if it is work itself, or me being depressed that is the problem. As I was leaving the appointment, Psych said he felt he should give me homework. He asked me to write about work. He wanted me to write what I like about it without thinking about it too much. He didn’t say I had to write it out in my neatest handwriting or anything and considering I hadn’t used this art journal prompt, I figured why not make it into a page.

I’m not really sure what this exercise is supposed to achieve. I don’t deny that there are things I like about my Ph.D., there are just a lot of “but”s. I enjoy learning. If you aren’t learning, you aren’t evolving and if you aren’t evolving, well, you are pretty much dead. I know there are lots of different ways to learn. I just know the academic way of learning and I was good at it, so that’s the route I took.

I also like information. I like to gather it, break it down into small digestible pieces and then build it back up in my own words with my own perspective. I like to share this information with others too. Teaching those that want to learn is always a great experience. I have a bit of stage fright, maybe a lot of stage fright, but giving a talk at a conference can make you feel like a rock star.

I also get to help people, improve their quality of life. Right now, there is no solution for age-related vision loss. There are treatments to help slow the progression, but no cures. The doctors spend as much time with their patients as they can, but some ophthalmologists have to pack 90 patients into one day. They don’t have the time to explain everything. I can do that. I can answer questions and explain how to use various visual aids. We even have training programs that teach people how to use what sight they have left. Most importantly, I can listen. Sometimes, that is all my patients want, someone to listen to them. I can do that.

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The reason I started down this path in the first place was because I was interested in vision, aging vision in particular. I was close to my Gran growing up, I even lived with her the first year my family moved to Montreal. Gran had Macular Degeneration (AMD). It got so bad that she was considered legally blind. This meant she wasn’t completely blind, she could still see light and movement, but no details. She walked around with the white cane, listened to audiobooks and was a member of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB).

Now, just stop for a second, imagine what it must be like to be a senior citizen, someone who has been depending on their vision for 65+ years and now cannot rely on it at all. You can’t drive, you can’t read, you can’t recognize people, you can’t shop without help because labels, prices and colours are hard to figure out and you can’t do most of your hobbies anymore because trying to see what you’re doing is too frustrating. Just imagine. It is worse when it happens quickly and there is no time to adapt. That is what happened to Gran. Most of the folks I work with get pretty depressed, but not Gran.

Gran was resilient. She had a great attitude. She was determined to stay independent and wasn’t going to let AMD stop her. She still went out on her own. She used her memory to get around the area she lived in. Once, she slipped on some ice and fell, broke her arm. She was out and about, cast and all a few days later. Her love of reading turned into an audiobook subscription. She used tools given to her by the CNIB to continue playing cards and doing cryptic crosswords. Gran even continued knitting! Of course, she could only do the patterns she knew by heart, but added her own little twist to them. These are two of the elephants Gran knitted. An angel and another one with a pink sweater, scarf and beret.

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All in all, she lived 15 years with AMD. Gran was a remarkable woman. Her attitude was inspiring. Sadly, I know it’s not like this in all cases. That is what prompted me into this field. I wanted to help in any way that I could. I still do.

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By the time I finished my writing, I was in tears. Gran has been gone for 11 years now, but sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday. I guess there are just some losses you never really recover from. I am pretty sure this is not the conclusion Psych wanted me to come to when he assigned me this writing exercise. Perhaps he wanted to determine if I was doing a Ph.D. for the right reasons? I don’t know.

Anyway, this is the page.

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For those of you interested in the art part…..I started by drawing a few eyes here and there. I wrote around them with different shades of blue Sharpie. You can see the Sharpie through the back of the page, so make sure you plan to gesso over the back or something. I wrote in different directions with a combination of printing and cursive. I spread a thin layer of gesso over the writing when I finished. I used my old Blockbuster membership card to spread the gesso. I find you can get a thinner layer with the gesso than with a paint brush. I wanted the writing to still be visible. The eyes were coloured with watercolour pencil crayons and Signo Uniball pens. I went over the background with some pastel gelatos. You can see kinda read the writing. It’s a bit tough in some places. I then went through with a Sharpie paint pen and highlighted some key words.

To Q Or Not To Q

My psychiatrist has prescribed Quentiapine (Q) to help me sleep. I’m not sure if this is a good idea for me. I have body image issues and am really nervous about the associated weight gain. Psych has never been too concerned with my body-hatred. He keeps recommending I try Remeron, which I’ve been told is a death trap for weight gain. I have been having problems sleeping though and I do need help with that. He decided to replace the Abilify I was on with Q to help with depression and sleep.

So far, I’ve been taking 50mg of Q at night. I go to bed when I start to feel woozy. I do sleep, but I wake up a lot during the night. In the morning, it’s really hard to get up and I want to eat everything! I have also experienced a strange foggy feeling in my head and some blurred vision. No change in mood so far. I know there is an adjustment period for Q, but I’m not sure it is worth it, especially if it’s not going to work wonders with my mood and sleep.

I have gained some weight in the last year and a half that I am trying to get rid of. I’ve found that the best time for me to exercise is early in the AM. I’m afraid I wont be able to do that with Q. I’m also wondering if Abilify had anything to do with my weight gain. I know it is supposed to be one of the more weight neutral anti-psychotics, but I have bad luck with side effects on most medications, so it is possible.

I’m starting to think it might be a good idea to just stay away from anti-psychotics all together. Abilify didn’t really make a big difference when I started it anyway. I can’t remember how long it has been, two years maybe? That would leave me with 300mg Welbutrin and 60mg Prozac. Psych also mentioned upping Prozac to 80mg and adding Imovane to sleep. Imovane is habit forming, so that’s not so great either. I don’t know if any of this stuff really helps anymore.

So the question is, do I keep going with Q and see if things get better? Or, do I stop now and drop the anti-psychotics all together?

pills for breakfast2

Being Assertive

Being assertive is important for self-esteem. I met with my psychiatrist (Dr. Dreamy) last Friday. He suggested that I work on being more assertive in order to boost my self-esteem. He thinks in order to do this, I would benefit from regular talk therapy. Regular means once a week. I was doing this and it was covered by provincial health care, but you get a limited number of sessions, then you have to wait six months before you can go back. I’m on the six month waiting period now. I could go private and pay to see a psychologist once a week, but that’s not in the budget right now. The last time I did that, it was $130.00 per hour! That was a few years ago now, so I can only imagine what it must cost now. I explained all of this to Dr. Dreamy and we worked out a solution. I will see him every one to two months to talk things out, otherwise, I will read what he recommends and sort it out myself. It’s not ideal, but seeing as I’m an academic, reading and sorting it out myself is supposed to be my forte. So until I see Dr. Dreamy again in June, I am reading about self-esteem and how to be more assertive.

Being assertive is a way of acting that strikes a balance between being aggressive and submissive. I think aggressive is probably one of the last words someone would use to describe me, so I must be more on the submissive side. If you are submissive you end up doing a lot of things you don’t want to do which can create resentment, then tension and then open conflict. That sounds like me…except for the open conflict part. I guess I keep it bottled up, which only hurts me in the end. Here are some characteristics of submissive behaviour…

  • Discounting your own rights and/or needs
  • Not expressing your feelings
  • Feeling guilty or like you are imposing when asking for a favour
  • Overly invested in being nice and pleasing people

And the characteristics of assertive behaviour…

  • Simple and direct communication without attacking or manipulating
  • Standing up for yourself and your rights without feeling guilty
  • Communication of feelings honestly while maintaining respect for others

The list of submissive behaviours totally sounds like me in a lot of situations, especially at work and with authority figures. By not expressing my feelings, people (like my supervisor) are ignorant of my wants and needs. How can I expect my supervisor to recognize how overwhelmed I am if I don’t tell her?

So how can I be more assertive? I need to work on those three points I listed above. I think I’m alright at the first one. I stay calm when speaking to people, I maintain eye contact and an open posture. I know that it is important to use “I” statements rather than “you” statements. “You” statements come off as threatening or like you are setting blame. If I were to talk to my supervisor it would be better to say “I am feeling overwhelmed”, rather than “you are giving me an impossible amount of work to keep up with”.

I do have to work on communicating how I feel and not feeling guilty about it though. I often feel ambivalent about my wants and needs. I think that is part of the problem. I need to sit down and really think about what they are instead of just going with the flow. Maybe that’ll be another post.

zen lace circle colour

 

T is for Talk Therapy

I started off at the mental health services at my university in 2006. There, I met with a clinical psychology student. I think it’s great that universities run these programs to give mental health sufferers free services and give the students some clinical experience, but I wouldn’t recommend it for your first talk session. It was so awkward! She had to record the session to go over later with her supervisor. She was really nice, but I didn’t know what to say and she didn’t know how to get me talking. There was a lot of awkward silence.

The next one I saw was a psychologist. She was a bubbly dose of sunshine, which was nice most of the time, but hard to take on some days. She knew how to get me talking. I appreciated having those 50 minutes with her each week to talk about what was on my mind. I didn’t want to burden friends with my dark thoughts, so having that time to talk about myself was great. I didn’t feel guilty unloading on her, I was paying her to listen after all. I saw Ms. Sunshine for several years. Eventually I stopped seeing her because I turned 25 and was no longer covered by my father’s insurance. Ms. Sunshine was expensive!

Ms. Sunshine was very focused. Since it appears that I’ve had depression since childhood, she was convinced the answer was in my venn diagrampast. We went over and over it, but nothing. So Ms. Sunshine moved on to my relationships. She made it clear she didn’t think my current relationship was good for me. I was dating my husband back then. She thought we had too much in common, that he didn’t bring me out of my comfort zone enough (socially). She often compared us to a Venn Diagram. You know, each circle is a person in the relationship and they should only overlap so much. She thought we overlapped too much. I didn’t see my relationship as a problem. I was fine with having things in common and he didn’t need to be really outgoing, he brought me out of my comfort zone in different ways; hiking and travel for example. In the end, as much as I liked her, it was probably good that I stopped seeing her. Her fixation on my relationship wasn’t really getting me anywhere.

The next person I started talking to was a social worker. I was on a waiting list for over a year before I was able to see him. He was convinced that it was my Ph.D. that was making me depressed. He actually told me he didn’t think it was the right thing for me and that I should try something different. That was a big blow, I was heart broken, but I knew it was what I wanted to be doing. These people are smart and they are here to listen and to help us learn to live with our depression, but it doesn’t mean they have all the answers. Had I seen him when I was diagnosed back in 2006, he probably would have succeeded in changing my career path, but not now. I didn’t let him talk me out of the Ph.D. I asked to be transferred to someone else.

The next psychologist was great. We worked on my anxiety, perfectionist tendencies and self-esteem. She didn’t once tell me that my relationship or my career were wrong for me. She listened to me and what I wanted for myself and helped me figure out how to work with what I had to get where I wanted to go. I learned a lot from her and I am still practising what I learned from her today. Unfortunately, the health care system here only allows you a limited number of sessions, so I had to stop seeing her.

Currently I see a psychiatrist, Dr. Dreamy I call him, whom I have mixed feelings about. I’ve only seen him a few times and there has been long wait times between appointments. There might be some potential there, we’ll see.

I’ve had ups and downs with talk therapy. I think it is important to have time to talk about yourself. Saying things out loud and having a neutral party ask questions can make you see perspectives that maybe you weren’t able to acknowledge on your own. These people are caring and intelligent and trying to be objective, but they are only human too. They don’t have all the answers and they may sometimes express their personal opinions which can be right, or wrong. Listen to what they say, learn from them, but in the end, you are in control of your own path and you can choose to incorporate what they recommend or not.

zentangle sunrise

Misadventures with Dr. Dreamy the Psychiatrist

I’m seeing my psychiatrist today. I’m not looking forward to it. The first time I met him was years ago. My doctor sent me to him to get another opinion on anti-depressant medication. I had never been to a psychiatrist before. I was anxious, but keeping an open mind. So I went to my first appointment and it was awkward. First of all, Dr. Dreamy is very attractive and he’s not much older than me. I guess I was expecting someone older and wiser, someone who wasn’t a peer. The fact the he was cute and making me blush just made it that much more uncomfortable.

I had waited months and months for the appointment, so I wasn’t going to bail now. I was okay talking to him about my anxiety issues. It was harder to talk to him about depression and my body image issues, but I did because I thought it was important. I had two appointments with him before I went back to my regular doctor.

It took Dr. Dreamy about two months to get back to my regular doctor about his opinion on my meds. He said the best thing for me would be Remeron. Remeron?! Are you kidding me?! Had he been listening to anything I was saying? I had basically told him I was obsessed with my weight and miserable because I was fatter than I wanted to be. I told him I was addicted to cake. Remeron is notorious for increasing appetite, especially for junk food and is one of the worst drugs for weight gain. I’m lucky I did my research ahead of time. Otherwise, I would have assumed doctor knows best and just taken what he recommended. Needless to say, I didn’t go back to him.

Fast forward a few years. I passed the 25 years old marker which was disastrous. I had to stop seeing my regular doctor because I was no longer considered a youth. 25 is also the cut off for being on your parents’ medical insurance, so no more private therapy. Therapy is a little expensive for a grad student. I tried the counseling services at the university, but that didn’t go well. A story for another time.

So now what? I started going to a walk-in clinic to get my refills. They refused to give me more than a month’s worth. So once a month I’d spend a few hours waiting at the walk-in. Yuck. I was put on a waiting list to see psychiatry (hope!). Then I found out they refer to the same practice that Dr. Dreamy was from. I made sure I requested a woman this time. Not only to avoid Dr. Dreamy, but I was hoping a women would take my body image issues more seriously. It took over 8 months to get an appointment with psych.

So I go to my appointment, feeling hopeful that I’d be able to get some real help again. I’m waiting in the waiting room and I hear my name called. I look up…..and it’s Dr. Dreamy again. Doh! Apparently since I started my file with him, I have to stay with him. Unfortunately, the past few years have been good to Dr. Dreamy and he’s still as cute as ever.

Since I didn’t really have a choice, I gave Dr. Dreamy another chance. He seemed better this time, although talking to him is still awkward. I feel like he is actually listening now. I’ve gone back to him many times, with long wait times in between. Instead of telling me what medication would be best for me, he has been asking what I think would be best for me. I’m managing my own meds? Does anyone else’s psychiatrist do this? At least this way I wont go on anything that causes weight gain, but I’m not a doctor, I don’t really know what I’m talking about…..

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