Thursday, August 29, 2013

I'm a big boy now!

When I was a little girl through to my teen years my family and I lived in a terrace house in the Sydney suburb of Newtown. The house was on a leafy street that leads down off the main road and continues through to the railway. I always loved this house and I think I still do because I miss it sometimes. Some of my best childhood memories come from the home we had there.

One of my funniest memories from when I was a little kid was brought back to the forefront of my mind when Noo, who is fast heading towards his fifth birthday, did something almost exactly the same as my sister did at around his age.

My sister was a feisty, vivacious little girl who pretty much always knew what she wanted and knew how to get it. She had blonde ringlets and beautiful blue eyes and an attitude that could even make adults doubt their position in an argument with her. And this when she was only a preschooler!

I clearly remember the day. My mum had filled the bath and left us to our own devices to wash and play in the water for a while. I was already undressed and in the tub when Yolanda stripped off her singlet and declared it was for babies so she didn't want to wear it any more.

The offending singlet had a little blue pony on it, if I recall correctly. Yo held it ceremoniously above the toilet, dropped it in and flushed, declaring: "I'm a big girl now!"

Unfortunately for Yo, and more so for my dad, the singlet didn't make it too far passed the S-bend and clogged up our toilet pipe. I remember dad having to hire special plumbing equipment to stick in through the pipes to find that pony singlet and remove it. As you can imagine my dad was not happy about Yo's way of showing us she was over with being the baby of the family.

Noo made a similar declaration with one of his material possessions just a couple of nights ago. Thank goodness it wasn't a singlet flushed in the toilet! Instead Noo found his Thomas the Tank Engine spoon, held it up to me and said "I don't like Thomas any more because I'm a big boy now!" and proceeded to chuck the spoon into the bin with a clang.

Well I'll be. My boy is no longer a baby.

Our Thomas days are over!

Maybe that was what Miley Cyrus was trying to tell the world the other day when she made that performance at the VMAs a couple of days ago? If only she'd just chucked out her baby clothes or cutlery to show she was moving on to the next stage of her life. Surely there could have been a more appropriate way to make such a statement.

Have your kids made any grand gestures to show they are growing up?


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Recipe: Pressure cooker lamb ragu

Since getting out of hospital I've started cooking again. Part of my depression recovery plan is to make sure Noo and I eat better. We all know it's critical for good mental and physical health whether you're a late 30s mum or an almost five year old boy. Hell, we all need good food and exercise.

So far we've had chicken sticks, spagbol, tuna rice and veggie patties, and cottage pie served with salad. Tonight Noo and I made ham and pineapple pizza together which was delicious. But the recipe I wanted to share with you now is for a dish I made a little while ago while we were up the Mountains, before I went to hospital. I took all the photos as I was cooking but somehow life got in the way of me publishing the recipe.

Earlier on this year I was the lucky winner of a Tefal Cook4Me pressure cooker. I entered a competition on Kate Says Stuff and was so stoked when I was notified by Kate that I'd won. The massive box arrived soon after and both my parents and I were amazed at its size. Where the hell would we fit this appliance into our already stuffed apartment?

The obvious solution was to send the Cook4Me up to my parents house in the Blue Mountains. We have a bit more space there and it is the perfect place to cook and eat hearty food like lamb ragu.

I must admit I had doubts about the appliance. Why? It looked too good to be true. I recently bought a slow cooker and I didn't like it at all and actually gave it away to Noo's day care. The Cook4Me however is awesome. So good I'm thinking we've got to get it back to town so I can use it more often!

I got the recipe from my favourite recipe website but I adjusted it for the pressure cooker. The original recipe can be found here.

Without further ado - my first go of the Tefal Cook4Me...

Cook4Me Lamb Ragu


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg half leg of lamb
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
About a 10 cm chunk of bacon speck cubed
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm pieces
2 sticks of celery, cut into 1cm pieces
1/2 cup fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, parsley - whatever you've got)
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 x 400 g cans diced tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock

Pasta of your choice
Parmesan cheese to serve


1. Prepare

I like to take out all the ingredients I need and prepare the veggies, herbs and meat so everthing is laid out ready to go. I didn't read the recipe correctly and so cut my lamb into large chunks rather than cooking the 1 kg half leg as a single piece, as you can see in the picture below. I highly recommend not doing what I did because you don't get that really tender melt in your mouth thing happening with the meat if you do.

Also have the Cook4Me out and ready to go.

2. The Browning

Add the olive oil to the bowl of the Cook4Me. Using the manual setting, brown the lamb using the 'browning' function on the Cook4Me for a couple of minutes on each side. You can set the timer on the machine but I just went freestyle and used my noggin to determine when the meat was browned.

Remove meat from cooker and set aside.

3. Sauteing

With the Cook4Me still on 'browning' mode, add pre-prepared onion, garlic, speck, carrot, celery and herbs to the cooker. Saute, stirring occasionally, until onion has softened.

4. The Saucy Bit

Add wine and cook for 1 minute. Add tomato paste, diced tomatoes, 2 cups of chicken stock. Stir to combine.

5. Introduce the Meat to the Sauce

Return meat to the Cook4Me and stir to combine or if using a whole piece of lamb ensure meat is covered with the saucy bits.

6. Speed Cook

Batten down the hatches! Close the lid on Cook4Me following the instructions. It's really super easy compared to our old pressure cooker which is now doomed to be heading for the garbage bin, if it hasn't already been let go of it's old duties thanks to a younger, smarter worker taking its place.

Set the Cook4Me to 'quick cooking' for 20 minutes. The cooker will tingle with a bell sound when it has completed the 20 minutes and steam will shoot out its rear. It is all rather exciting! I just couldn't wait to see what the end result was inside.

If the ragu needs more cooking you just need to shut up the pressure cooker again and set it to cook for a further 10 minutes or whatever you think it requires.

7. Finishing Touches

Shred the lamb with a couple of forks. Remove any fat or bone from the ragu.

Cook whatever pasta you wish to have with your lamb ragu. Chop up fresh parsley and shave up some parmesan.

Yummy lamb ragu with pasta

There you have it! It actually took way longer to prepare all the ingredients than it did to cook the ragu. Writing this post took double the time of all of it (gosh I'm slow!).

Everyone in my family loved this recipe and even fussy eater Noo gave it the tick of approval.

I would highly recommend the Tefal Cook4Me. I'm so glad I won it! Can't wait to get back up the Mountains to try other recipes in it.


PS. I was under no obligation by either Tefal or  Kate Says Stuff to write about my prize. I just felt like it. So there.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

The drugs don't work

I'm eight days out of hospital and I feel like shit. Four days ago I was feel bloody fabulous. I went on the longest walk I think I've ever done. The energy, clarity and freedom I felt was amazing. Now, I can't seem to get that feeling back. My brain is playing tricks with me as usual.

The dizzy spells started around three days ago I think. The ground has been moving from under my feet - sideways and up and down. My head feels foggy and I can't really see clearly. I'm anxious and depressed at the same time yet I'm able to have spontaneous fits of giggles and bursts of happiness. I imagine my psyche sitting at an old one armed bandit poker machine. With each yank of the arm, the reels turn and I score a different emotion to contend with. I wish it would stop at happy and walk away from the machine. Enough is enough.

My tear ducts are ready to give forth salty streams of water down my face at the push of a button. Any one of my current sensitivity buttons will do: crowds, blogging, Noo not doing as I ask, Noo being noisy, Noo being messy, Noo being gorgeous, politics, thinking about my parents and wishing they were back home. Yep, anyone of them can start me off.

Combine the wrong spin of the pokie with the more dramatic button being pushed and bam! It's a recipe for the proverbial disaster.

But this too shall pass.

This too shall pass.

Yesterday started like the rest. Woke up....

Ah, fuck it. Was going to tell you about this huge public breakdown I had in the middle of Pitt Street Mall, no less, but I'm going to spare you the details. It started with the dizziness. Poor Noo had to endure the whole thing. It really was terrible.

I'm suppose to be getting better! That's why I'm home from hospital. I can't go back. I just can't leave Noo again. Not until my parents get back at least. He needs the familiarity of his own home rather than being shunted around.

This morning I broke down crying but I decided that rather than hide from Noo I sat with him. I tried to explain my tears and how I was feeling. We were getting ready to go out and he just had his undies and singlet on as he crawled up onto my lap. He's so small with no clothes on. My baby again.

He kissed my hands as I cried and told him how much I love him. That the tears were not his fault. They are no one's fault. Mummy's brain chemistry is just a little weird right now. 

"You need to go back into hospital and get better Mummy", Noo told me.
"No way! I'm not leaving you again. I'll be ok."
"Don't worry about me, Mummy. You have to get better."

My four and a half year old is so brave! Braver than I am that is for sure.

The brave and the bold

I can still feel the dizziness come in waves. It makes me feel out of control physically as much as I've felt out of control emotionally for months now. I think the problem is that I'm having serious withdrawal symptoms from discontinuing one of the medications I was on. Well, I'm pretty much 100% sure.

I was only on fluoxetine (also known as Prozac, Lovan) for about two months and it has been about ten days since my last dose. Prior to that I was on a different SSRI antidepressant called citalopram for about four years. Citalopram is supposed to be quite hard to come off. The dose has to be tapered down so withdrawal symptoms are minimised. In the switch from one to the other, my doctor had me on both citalopram and fluoxetine at the same time for weeks to help avoid any withdrawal symptoms from the citalopram. I haven't had any citalopram now for about six weeks so it should be completely out of my system. Even though I stopped taking fluoxetine abruptly 10 days ago (as directed by my psychiatrist) it is not supposed to have the same withdrawal problems as the other because it has a longer half life which means it stays in the body for longer therefore naturally tapers off slowly.

Phew! Did you get that?

Basically, if none of that makes any sense, my bloodstream should be completely free of SSRI antidepressants and I should be feeling a lot better than I do.

So why am I feeling all the textbook symptoms of SSRI discontinuation syndrome? Brain zaps, dizziness, nausea, vertigo, tremor, confusion, anxiety.

I guess I'll have to wait until my next doctor's appointment to find out.

Dr Google can't tell me everything.

It sure can't tell me when this shall pass.


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Friday, August 23, 2013

Mental illness: Coming home from hospital

If you follow me on the social networks you'll know I'm freshly out of hospital. I was an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital for two weeks being treated for depression and anxiety. Or maybe it's bipolar II. My shrink can't put me into a DSM-5 box yet.

I've been back out in the big bad world for a week. Well, it isn't that bad, but it is full of new challenges as I try to adjust to life on a completely new family of medications with a son who has gone through a behaviour training program of sorts while I was away.

This is an excerpt from an email I sent my parents earlier this week. Actually, it's most it. There's not much I don't share on here! It explains what went on and how I was feeling in those first three days out of hospital without me having to write it all up again.

19 August 2013

Dear Mum and Dad

The last four days have been quite strange in both good and bad ways. Nothing seems ‘back to normal’ but it’s not all negative, there’s been a lot of positive change, which we were all hoping for I guess. I've only been out of the hospital for three days and I still feel really fragile.

While the medication change has been worth it there are some side effects that aren't great, the worst one being that lithium causes a slight tremor so I'm kind of shaky all the time. Sometimes it isn't noticeable, eg when out for a big walk (which I've started doing regularly) or watching telly (rather than staring at my laptop being unproductive I've been getting back into my shows), but typing on this keyboard or texting on my phone can be quite challenging at times.

Like I told you in my text message Saturday was the hardest day so far. I was so shaky and nervous about seeing Noo after a week of not seeing him that when I arrived at Yo’s house I burst into tears. Noo was so happy to see me. You know how chatty and happy he is normally, well times that by 100 and you can imagine what he was like.

We hung out with Yo and Cal for a little while as Mala had her midday nap. Noo was constantly asking for food to eat. It felt really strange. Callum made him a ham and cheese toasty which I shared with him. Noo's aunt and uncle are very stern with him and he is not allowed to leave the table when eating. Even fruit comes after main meal because it is considered a sweet treat! Seems to have worked, whatever they have done, because the kid has got an appetite and he's stopped being such a fussy eater!

Yo had promised Noo that I would take him for a chocolate shake at the cafĂ© around the corner and then to the local playground. Noo scooted while I walked along. He was just so happy. Oh my god, the talking! He’s language skills have improved ten-fold as he relays stories of what had been happening while I was away. When we got to the cafe we shared a banana bread with Pepe Sayer butter and strawberry jam and Noo had his shake and I had a coffee. He said please and thank you and was just lovely to be with – just so different with me from before I ‘went away’.

I was still so shaky and nervous about doing the right thing though. I don't want to fuck up all the good work they've done by giving Noo more structure and routine to his life, something I've always struggled with.

We went to the park and Noo enjoyed a huge turn on the swing and then the slide. I sat and watched and tried not to be over anxious about him falling or whatever. There were a lot of other kids in the playground and it took an effort for me to not stress about them being mean to him. Of course they weren't going to be, it was just my own fear from when I was a child. I didn't realise just how much of my own childhood anxiety I have been transferring on to him. And anyway, if they had been mean, Noo probably would have handled it differently to me because he is such a confident kid.

When we finally got back to Yo’s place I was worn out. I just needed to be alone for a bit and so had to say goodbye but Noo kept trying all these distraction tactics to keep me there. I felt so bad leaving. He was crying with his little hands reaching out of the front gate but I just had to get into the car and not look back. It was a hideous experience.

Saturday night, back home alone, I was determined to pull my shit together and get him back the next day, despite having said I'd take another week off to be alone to sort out the apartment and work out our new routine. I'm so glad I made that decision! He is just amazing. I'm so happy we are back together and so is he. And he keeps telling anyone who will listen – “My mummy and I are back together! Isn't that great?”

On Sunday I met up with Yo, Cal, Mala and Noo at Marrickville Markets where the sun was shining and we all worried about getting sunburnt. We are having the warmest August which is lovely. We hung out on the grass near where the pony rides are until Mala started getting tired.

“I'm just so glad we are back together Mummy!”

Next job was to transfer the car seat from the Volvo to the Subaru with Noo and all his clothes. Noo and I then headed back to the apartment and he was happy to be back in his own home. He chatted non-stop all the way, saying “I'm just so glad we are back together Mummy!” over and over. My heart filled with so much emotion it was hard to not cry - for the joy of being back together and for the sadness of having to leave him in the first place. I am still so emotionally sensitive that it doesn't take me much to start crying. I have to use all the skills I relearnt in hospital to distract myself in order to stay in control of my emotions.

We hung out for a while and Noo ate all the sandwich he requested: Ham and American mustard on sourdough while watching Escape from Planet Earth. I’d already had the most delicious pulled pork with coleslaw and crackling roll at the markets. Only $9 and oh so good. I hadn't had breakfast so got the roll when I arrived at 10.30am and there was no queue. By the time we left at 11.30 people had already queuing for it. Noo and I will have to take you there one weekend when you get back. I'm salivating just thinking about that thing!

We went back out to the shops later in the afternoon. When we arrived at centre we jumped on board the lift heading for level 2. I said the usual “press number two, Noo” but the other person in the lift had already pressed it. Rather than crack it and give the angry look, Noo said to the man, “thank you for pressing two for us”. I was fucking gobsmacked! Talk about manners!

We checked out the new frozen yogurt place and shared a huge yogurt, trying all the flavours. Then we went into the arcade game place and played air hockey and it was a draw. Noo then said he was hungry again so I said lets go for dinner on the sushi train. I was hungry too as it was 5pm by this time and I had not eaten anything since that delicious roll at 10.30.

We sat up on the train and Noo ate his whole plate of tuna rolls, some raw salmon from my plate and most of the edamame with piles of ginger and soy sauce. He even tried a little wasabi!

Next stop was BiLo and we each had to have a basket with identical contents. I said he could get one Kinder Surprise Egg for his dessert and he also got a small chocolate milk which he finished in the car on the way home. There were no arguments trying to get more treats than were already offered.

By the time we got home, with shower and dinner already done for the day, Noo enjoyed some time with his own iPad while I did a few jobs around the apartment. I’m telling you mum and dad, the happiness emanating from this child is amazing! He was a bit wound up so getting him into bed at the time Yo was managing just wasn't going to happen. Instead of 7.50pm bedtime he was in bed by 8.20 and lights out at 8.35 with only a few arguments. Can’t complain about that! So much better than his old 9.30-10pm bedtime, that is for sure.

Getting ready Monday morning was also pretty easy. He was up before 7am and asked to watch a movie while eating the breakfast that he made for himself (nutella on sourdough with a bowl of strawberries). I resisted the movie as Yo had said no screens in the morning. After a while I thought, fuck it, and told him he could watch some cartoons but no long movies or iPad. I had to shower and wash my hair so I had to give him something.

We got to school by 9am. Before we left, when we got to the lobby Noo says “Hello Terry and Joel! Look! Mummy and I are back together again!” It brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it! Actually, I'm bawling, but don't be alarmed. Joel and Terry were really happy to see us and Terry high fived Noo for us being ‘back together again’.

At preschool, it was the same thing from Noo. As soon as we were through the gate he was telling everyone. I stayed for a little while because Noo just wanted to show me off because I was home from hospital. One of the boys asked why I'd been in hospital and Noo answered that it was because he didn't go to bed early enough. I was really surprised and tried to say no way was it his fault! He changed the subject pretty quickly but I will have to address that with him later. I do not want him thinking it is his fault that I am unwell.

Mala heard my voice from the nursery and was trying to get my attention. OMG! She is so funny. She’s lost that baby look and has started to look more like a toddler. She’s started to get quite long. She'd dragged herself to the gate, had her legs all the way out pointing over at us. I went over to her side and gave her a cuddle but she kept pointing at Noo saying “Neh, Neh!”. The both of them are so gorgeous together. Noo really didn't want me to leave but I didn't want to be disruptive so by about 10am I was finally out the gate. I then went for a big walk around the Harbour which will brighten anyone's mood.

Well, that’s enough for today. Not much else to tell you. Hope you are having a wonderful holiday.


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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Putting the pieces of me back together

Saturday 10 August 2013

So I don't know what to write or even why I should but my fingers are so shaky it just feels like they need to be doing something. How many times can I tidy up my room? I could go for a walk on this beautiful sunny day but my legs aren't shakey, its my hands and my wrists. They need some action. My brain is a little hesitant though. The meds are making it difficult for me to write coherently but I'll do my best anyway.

I've been in hospital for just over a week now. I still feel really weird being here even though I've been here before so the surroundings are not new. My meds are changing all the time which causes all manner of confusion. The first couple of days I was in I just slept. I was admitted on the Friday and weekends are really quiet in psych hospitals. No group therapy just time and lots of it.

The kids were kind enough to pass on their cold to me (sarcasm) so spending the first couple of days sleeping on off without too much disruption didn't bother me at all. I do feel so guilty about what impact my breakdown has on my family. Everyone of us has had to shift around responsibilities in order to make it work for me to be here to sort out why mood has become so erratic. 

Noo has moved in with my sister Yolanda, her husband and little Mala. Yo and Cal's family has grown from three to four over night and Noo is living in a "normal" family unit for the first time. There are rules and routines at Rancho Relaxo and I've heard that Noo is responding really well to the new regime.

Routine reigns here in hospital as well and I really like not having to think about what comes next in the day. There's no one really to pester me about what we are going to do today, when can we do it... all those questions kids ask all the time. I want. I need. Mummy. Mummy. Mummy. Ad nauseum.

Still I've cried a lot in here. The different meds, the different surroundings, sights and sounds all add to the whirley burley going on in my mind. I'm shaky then agitated then bawling my eyes out. Sometimes I feel like I can sleep forever, others I feel like I could run a mile.

I miss my boy so much. The umbilical cord has remained firmly attached for so long that not being with him for such a long time is so difficult yet this break is just what I have needed. I have to keep reminding myself that I'm doing this not just for myself but for him. I was not being a great mum before I got to this point where I find myself an inpatient for possibly five weeks my doctor has warned (since I wrote this my time has been reduced to two to three weeks. I'm getting better baby!). I worry about what the long term absence has on little Noo. My parents have also gone away for a long time so there have been a lot of changes for a little boy of four and a half to process.

Noo has come to visit a couple of times already but the goodbyes get more painful each time. Today we were both crying on the street, unable to let each other go. How can you explain to a kid that this isn't forever? A day, a week, a month... are such long, long expanses of time for a preschooler.

On the flipside I've got my own room for the first time in nearly five years. I didn't realise how sharing a little room with my kid (and twice a week my niece as well) was having an impact on me. This room I'm in has an ensuite and a larger space than our room at home. It has a flatscreen TV, plus I have all my iGadgets and laptop with me. I keep tidying it and straightening things up before sitting down in the bed to watch TV or read or snooze. Having my own space is wonderful despite nurses popping their heads in every so often to check I'm ok.

Cluttered room/cluttered mind  -  a single room for 10 days is just what I needed
-  not enjoying the shared situation but it's nearly home time

There's only been one rainy day since I've been here which is great. Nothing better for the mood than a walk on a sunny day. There's a huge community park right by the hospital which is a lovely place to walk around and also has a playing field and kids playground. 

My goal while I'm here is to find my peaceful mind again. I also want to regain those life skills from previous in- and outpatient group therapy programs that I seemed to have forgotten along the way somehow.

I want to learn, and have the confidence to, set goals that are achievable and give me strength. I need to find the capable mother within me that doesn't bawl her eyes out at being asked "can I've a lollipop" for the fiftieth time and then begs her own mother to deal with it; the Vanessa whose heart doesn't start pounding with fear at the thought of a whole day out in public with kids in tow.

I know I'm in here somewhere. It's now just a matter of wading through the facts, thoughts, emotions and chemicals to find the real me again.

Finally, I want to thank those of you who wrote lovely words of support and encouragement on my last post. They really mean a lot to me so thank you.

Here's to the future!


PS: I wrote this a couple of days ago. I'm feeling better with each day that passes now my medication has settled down. Even made that little picture for you! The next couple of days will be more group therapy and more planning my return home. I'm feeling really good about the future again and getting home to my beautiful boy.

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

This blog is going on a little, ahem... holiday

I was just going to disappear, figuring no one would notice anyway.

I was going to allow myself some privacy and slip away quietly.

But then I remembered my blog's mission: to help break down the stigma of mental illness. To speak openly and to not hide in shame of the fact that I'm not coping at all.

Tomorrow I'm going back into hospital. Hopefully for just a week to sort out my meds, have a break from the daily routines of life, get away from my screens.

The thought of leaving Noo breaks my heart. My parents are like his parents and I'm sure he'll be ok. My motherly instincts are burning in pain. I feel like I'm neglecting him, losing him, setting him up for sadness in his future...

I'm just so tired of crying. I'm so tired of feeling like my skin is as thin as paper, easily torn with the slightest of triggers. The blackest sludge lives within me and leaks out in streams of tears and negativity. How did it get there? Where did it come from?

There are moments of lightness which confuse me. How could I feel OK one minute and so fucked up the next? How is my brain even capable of such rapid changes?

I don't think I have anything else to say. My tiny stats will plummet, any obligations I have to advertisers, PRs, etc will just have to wait.

I'm putting myself first.

Next time I post it's gonna be a cracker. Happy and full of hope.

I'm doing all I can to make sure that happens.


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