Saturday, June 22, 2013


I love how the really important conversations with my sister always seem to take place late at night as one of us reheats dinner while the other watches. We stand on either side of the tiny kitchen, the old wooden table that Dad's father made some forty years ago between us, and we talk, usually a talk that's been a long time coming. Last night it started just as a catch up, and her telling me about the work she has on a camp this coming week, and we made plans to have lunch when she gets back, a lunch we've been planning since she bailed on the Morrissey concert last year. (Bitch.)

On the spur of the moment, it just seemed like the right time to tell her about the scary health stuff that's been going on. She knows there's been stuff wrong (there's only so much you can hide when you live in the same house), but she doesn't know how bad. It took me a few goes to get the words out, mumbling some other rubbish first, and eventually came up with this:

'So I've had some stuff. Like, voices and psychosis. All new.'

'You haven't already had that for years?'


'You've had that stuff for years, right?' 

'What? No! What's wrong with you?'

'What's wrong with me?'

'Yeah, fair call.'

We didn't talk about it much after that. She took the news calmly, and was really good about it, and promised not to tell my parents (I still don't know how to have that conversation). I feel better talking about it now with a bit of practice on a few friends and now that I am mostly certain schizophrenia isn't on the table. She was calm for me. The same way I am calm for her when she needs me to kill a spider or a cockroach. The same way she is calm for me when I have to get a needle or a blood test and she talks sense into me. 

This give and take is still kind of new for us. We've fought and scrambled our way to this strong support that's so good for both of us; we talk each other up and down as needed. It's a dynamic that runs the gamut from: 'How can you possibly think that? What is wrong with you?' to 'Oh my god, I thought exactly the same thing, you're in my head' and carrying on full conversations with movie and comedy quotes from people we love. We have three brothers, but they're not like us much. There are things that she and I share that no one else can.

Last week I read an touching series of interviews conducted with sets of sisters. The sister of Alison Bell, the actress, said something that cut through to my heart: 'The best thing about having a sister is that it's Alison.' 

It's a beautiful thought, and one that I believe too. The best thing about having a sister is that she's Clarence.* It's not always easy, but it's worth it, and it's the most important relationship in my life. 

She's not perfect, but she's my person. 

*her nickname
Saturday, June 15, 2013

I Go To Sleep

I rarely do 'State of the Nation' posts, but this is a necessary anomaly. 

A few months ago I mentioned that I had been experiencing some really scary stuff, like hearing voices and psychosis, among other things. I've been in and out of hospital since December, but my contact with my specialist has been limited and I haven't been able to afford seeing her. My GP (or my regular doctor - I've no idea what you'd call her in the States or the UK) left her practice around the time I was getting ill, and I was only just able to track her down. However, she's now arranged with my specialist for me to see her under the same bulk billing practice that is used by most GPs, so the health care system at the federal level is looking after me. Thank Christ for socialised medicine and decent doctors who give a damn. 

The de Balzac line that 'our greatest fears lie in anticipation' rings very true where my health is concerned. Until now I have always been very proactive about my condition since I was diagnosed properly. I am compliant about taking my medications, and when I have the cash I see my specialist. I go to hospital when psychosis starts. I try and educate myself about things I can do to live better and reduce the severity of my symptoms. But even though most of the reason I haven't been seeing doctors of late is cash related, there's also a part of me that didn't want to be told I had schizophrenia. 

So here's the big news: it's almost certainly not schizophrenia. (Cue sigh of relief.) The bets are on the psychosis being triggered by my past trauma, even after all this time, and it's possible my diagnosis will now be Bipolar I, not II. This feels strange to me. For some time now I have joked that the definition of Bipolar II in the DSM-whatever should be accompanied by my photograph, but the psychosis changes things. I dunno. It might change again soon, who knows. 

I have a new medication to add to the mix, a little pill so tiny you can hardly believe that it's so important. If I sneezed I'd never find it. It has a sedative and calming effect and should help keep the psychosis at bay (please, yes) so I add it to the other medication I've been taking for a few years now. It's all at night, and the pills are dry and smooth in my fingers as I sip the water to wash them down. It's amazing how we can imbue such minute objects with such power, and it's not unusual for me to look at them with longing, hoping that their intricacies will help me through the next day and beyond. That they'll send me to sleep soon, and allow me to be at my best.

Here's hoping.

P.S. - Google Reader is soon to be no more, and given how infrequently I update the blog I'm asking those of you who read this when I do to either sign up with a service like BlogLovin', which I've just started using myself and quite like, or subscribe to the blog via e-mail at right. I do occasionally tweet that I've updated, but if you're a regular reader I'd be very grateful if you'd sign up so I don't have to do that - it makes me feel foolish. 

I just took my tablets so I'm going to bed now. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

All Fired Up

While it seems that some of the scariest things of these last months aren’t going away, it does seem that I’ve stumbled on a patch of relative calm and creativity. I had a major breakthrough on some horribly overdue research that I’m now assembling and then writing up, and if this holds for me then getting all my Honours work done by October is manageable. For the first time in months I am not consumed by blinding panic every time I think of all the work I have to do. I’m actually excited by the prospect of my work for the first time in ages, and I’m fighting my head well enough to get some shit done.

It’s a strange thing, getting something of your real self back after months of being so disconnected. While it’s not a terribly original analogy, it really is rather like the lights coming on inside your head. It’s thrilling, cracking something so resolutely and steadfastly infuriating as the work that’s been in front of me for months. I also like that I’ve been able to speak with people this last week or so and actually be able to play along and pass for a normal human being.

I was feeling well enough that I could run away to Canberra for the weekend just gone, a long arranged trip for a concert by one of my favourite Australian bands. I have lived with their music for more than fourteen years, and listening to these guys and seeing them live are memories of my teens that I don’t completely hate. It’s not simply nostalgia – they’re still releasing outstanding music – and I was looking forward to seeing them in a venue I haven’t been to before. I know most of the Sydney live music venues like the back of my hand and am a little bored with them, so the intimate microbrewery with great sound was a lovely surprise for this passionate gig goer, even if we were all dying of the heat by the end of the night (this sounds especially ridiculous given that we were on the very cusp of winter that night in Canberra, of all places). My friends and I got there after splitting some amazing dumplings and some even better beer, and for a few hours it really felt like someone else’s life. We were laughing and chatting and the Moz who’s in and out of hospital managed to stay in her cage for the night. One of the joys of live music is that it always wakes me up, and so it was on Friday night. I was present, and having a good time.

We stood and drank and tried to carry on a conversation despite the noise, waiting for the band to come onstage. The slightly older crowd, who would have been in their twenties when this band was at their peak, swayed and made out with one another, and I smiled, hoping that some of these couples had, in fact, gotten together all the way back when. Then there they were, and after a few songs I looked around, almost expecting to see my younger, thinner self, just singing along. But instead I saw my friends, who I love so much, and who welcome me into their home when I come to town. I looked back at the singer, wailing about time travel and times past, and it suddenly hit me that I’m so busy looking back and trying to work out my own past that I’m missing what’s in front of me right now.

This is probably self-evident to everyone but me. It makes complete sense that I study history; I'm certainly obsessed with my own past and what went wrong and what passed me by. Now I am missing what’s in front of me, and the truth is that even though a lot of the time I’m paralysed by my illness, I am doing my Honours work. I am doing exactly what I’m meant to be doing right now, at a university I love, and I am free. This work isn’t a burden, or something that someone else is demanding of me. It is my choice, and I am good at this. It’s research and it’s writing, and there’s creativity and imagination required of me in what I do. This is my vocation, and this time and place is mine.

So while I’m chained to a hospital bed more often than I would like, I am privileged enough to mostly do what keeps me alive and feeds my soul. I am doing what I love, and that sets me free.