By Elizabeth Saunders with apologies to Alan Alexander Milne
Whenever I walk down a Brisbane street,
I’m ever so careful to watch my feet
And I keep from the lines
Or it’s double-up time.
Tactile paving is oft the worst to step on
No steps is best, or else two must be upon.
But no gait change allowed
(That counts as a step)
It must be all even among the crowd.
There are bears in my brain which make up the rules
I don’t know what they are til I’m given the chills.
Driveways, usually, an even number of steps
Sticks, leaves and seedpods must be re-stepped.
Running’s the worst,
(And with no headphone a curse.)
I halt on my jog – a utility cover.
I’ll have to turn round and look for another
Route to get home but all paths are the same,
Too many parts to mimic and maim.
The bears growl to each other
Inside my brain
About the lines on the footpath
And the marks on the drain.
The masses of bears,
They see the germs too.
Telephones, lift buttons and eftpos devices
Handles and handshakes: unsanitary vices.
I do my hand washing and I use my hand gel,
The bears think I’m a silly
But I use hand wipes as well.
Some of the younger bears try to pretend
That it’s all about footpaths
Or germs on one’s skin.
But the bigger bears know that in the scariest lairs
They go beyond childhood games and cares
For deep down inside are the menacing bears.
The intrusive thoughts, those menacing bears,
They tear apart every one of your cares.
The worst thing you can think of,
Your boggart – that’s you.
You “know” it’s not true – but really, do you?
You might try to pretend to be someone’s friend
Then hurt them somehow
Or whatever it is that you think is most foul.
The bears in your brain, they know that it’s true
The worst of the worst – the bears tell you it’s you.
It’s ever so portant that you don’t balk
As you try to believe your therapist’s talk
And it’s ever so frightful to beg out “Bears,
Stop the intrusive thoughts from the darkest of lairs!”
I’ve recently taken up cycling. I try to go at least one day on the weekend and listen to music or podcasts while I cycle through the bushlands, wetlands and carparklands of the surrounding suburbs.
I’ve been a bit down lately. Actually, that’s a huge understatement. A team of professionals, a suite of medications, a range of coping strategies (some more maladaptive than others), hospital stays of varying durations, a horde of loving friends and family, and I’m barely keeping my head above water.
Everyone keeps banging on about how well I’m doing and that I should give myself some credit for what I am achieving.
My inner-self cries “what achievements?” Since when did getting someone else to do school drop off, staying in bed all day then heating up a freezer dinner become an achievement?
I know we have times in our lives when we need the help of others – new baby, bereavement, serious illness and the like – but seriously, I’ve barely cooked a meal in two years. What happened to the person who used to just get stuff done?
I have such a low capacity now, and no resilience. Last Wednesday I presented at the national conference for my profession. Last Thursday I was taken by ambulance to psychiatric emergency because I got a bit stressed in a meeting.
Today I dropped off a fortnight’s worth of laundry to a friend who begged me to let her do it. I don’t even have the energy to politely refuse when people offer anymore. I’m so dismayed with my own inability to complete tasks that I gratefully piled her up with overflowing baskets.
Back to this afternoon’s bike ride. I gave up early. I’d been for a big ride yesterday, the wind was against me and I didn’t have any oomph. I tried to be gentle with myself and concluded that a short ride was better than no ride, and headed for home do something nice before it was time to pick up the kids.
I returned home from yet another hospital visit today to see that my ABC Open piece on ‘Advice’ had been published.
Ensure that you have a supportive and loving spouse, family, friends and employer. Navigating mental illness without this is unthinkable.
Don’t expect that if you present to the emergency department that you will get to see a doctor. If you get concerned about this, expect to be offered prescription sedatives, but you still won’t get to talk to a psychiatrist.
Expect to be scolded if you insist on this – being proactive in seeking medical care is generally frowned upon as ‘rudeness’. Don’t feel relieved when you finally get an appointment; tomorrow they’ll decide you live in the wrong suburb and will cancel.
When admitted, an allied health professional may occasionally visit. Sporadically you’ll get to see a doctor, but she’ll contradict the registrar and scold you for following her advice.
“You stupid, stupid idiot. It’s not ok to make mistakes like that. You should be better at this.”
That scolding was served with venom in a present-day Australian school and for many students and teachers alike, vile self talk of this nature is an uncontrolled epidemic.
In a therapy session with a graduate psychologist, he asked me what would it look like if I showed compassion to myself. I was dumbstruck, flabbergasted, flummoxed. I could not think of a single thought or endeavour which could possibly meet that ridiculous specification. I racked the foreign frontiers of my brain looking for a skerrick of an idea which might answer my therapist’s question, but still nothing.
To say that it’s been a dreadful year for my husband and me is quite an understatement. Trauma crippled us. Trying to rectify the situation hammered us again, repeatedly. The darkness has threatened to pull us both under – sometimes at the same time.
The trauma and distress has been unbearable, with precious little relief. When your lives are decimated, but the demands do not cease, the impact of careless discourtesy – and the power of kindness – can be profound. Read more…