Sunday, February 23, 2014

Anxiety: Out of financial control

It is Sunday afternoon and Noo and I have spent our third weekend in a row at home. That is we came home from school Friday and have not left the apartment since.

Since Noo started big school he's turned into a boy who likes to lounge around and play with his screens all weekend. It's not really healthy, I guess, but with no cash in the bank it is kind of a relief for me. I don't need to deal with a kid begging to go out and spend money.

All my life I've lived from payday to payday. I've never saved a penny but I've paid off tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, which is kind of like saving but you get the goods first (and hand out a shit load of interest).

I hate living like this but I don't know any other way. This pay, my dad and I are going to try a new system. One where he will basically hold my spending money and doll out a weekly allowance to me. I have my doubts, but I need to try something.

Out of financial control - image source

You'd think that a 39 year old shouldn't have the need to have her parents control her cash. When I was in hospital last year, spending five weeks in the depression unit, I met many others like me; grown ups who needed other grown ups to take care of their finances.

I'm sure it is quite common for people with addictions to need help this way. I guess to stop them spending their money on their vices. I've also met people with bipolar who need help managing their money, especially when manic.

Simply, I have little self control when it comes to cash. While I've been sober nearly six years, and I don't even crave drink, drugs or even cigarettes, I do love to shop. I have a wardrobe full of (cheap) clothes I've never worn. Some still have labels on them and some have only ventured out once or twice. I don't go anywhere so there's really no need to dress up.

I don't work so you might be wondering why I have any money at all. I wrote a post about it years ago that you can check out here. Basically I've been on salary continuance insurance since my breakdown in 2007. I have a very generous policy that I paid a premium towards during the seven years I was working with my last employer. This was the company from which I attempted to walk home one fateful Friday night before being taken, against my will (I assume - I have very little recollection of how I got there), to a stranger's flat and raped (you can read about all that here).

I'm still considered a 'low income earner' as far as the Tax Office is concerned but I don't qualify for a healthcare card or single parents' benefit. I get a tiny bit of Family Tax Benefit A and B (Aussies will know what I'm talking about here). I'm not pissed off about that because I know I'm very lucky to be in this position, unlike the majority of single mums unable to work for one reason or another, who are really doing it tough on just what the government provides.

I live with my parents in a really nice apartment. It is so awesome now Noo and I have finally got our own rooms after sharing for the last five years. We are so lucky my parents are happy for Noo and me to live here for the foreseeable future. This is necessary for us both financially and health wise as I don't think I could cope with the loneliness of living by ourselves.

I pay my father board and contribute towards bills. I have a personal loan and I'm on a rental plan for my laptop. My mobile bill is considerable because of the data allowance I use, as any blogger with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts would understand. I have top private health insurance which is an astounding amount of money every month but with my health I would never give it up.

I always pay my bills on time and Noo and I really do not need anything (except food) yet I always seem to be scrounging for cash.

Money is one of the main fuels for my anxiety. Money and food, or should I say, my negative body image, are the areas of my life that I worry about most (other than being a good mother). The body image stuff I'm trying to get over using the Health At Every Size approach. It is working a little bit. That's for another post.

At the beginning of the pay month, when I'm flush, I'm anxious to buy something nice because I've usually gone three long weeks without much cash to play with. I'm anxious because I know I shouldn't buy anything (like clothes or toys) but I desperately want something new. Often when I make a purchase, it is done with the same compulsivity that I used to seek out cocaine back in the day. The blinkers go up to block out all reason. Fuck it, I think to myself, I deserve this [insert item here].

But like when I eat junk, spending my money on unnecessary things just makes me feel worse. As my cash starts running out, and it's weeks until my next pay, my anxiety flares while I worry about how we will survive. I wrote about my insufficient self control schema (or my self saboteur) early last year. Living with a highly addictive personality in this day and age of want it/need it/have it now, I fall prey to cheap consumerism way too easily.

I just want to snap out of it. Wake up and find that a frugal/thrifty/financially responsible grown up resides in my body. But that's not going to happen. I have to work at this.

I wrote a post about money management last year which won a blogging competition. Ha! I should follow my own advice. But why are the things that we want to change the most the hardest?

Are you a spender or a saver? Got any financial advice for me? 

If you used to be a spendaholic like me but have changed your ways, please get in touch. 


PS If someone writes a comment like "first world problems" I might cry. Of course I've got "first world problems" - I live in the frigging first world. Which is lucky. In the Lucky Country, even.

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Monday, February 17, 2014

Managing mental illness: Self-care

The last year has been one of the hardest since my first serious mental health breakdown in 2007. I’ve stood way too close to precipice of life and death on more occasions than I think I ever have in my life – particularly midway through last year when I spent five weeks in a psychiatric hospital.

The only reason why I haven't slipped over the edge is my son. Even when the battle seemed too great I just had to think of him – my beautiful five year old boy – and a little voice in the back of my head would tell me to fight on.

It’s been nearly seven years now since I first came truly undone. Over those seven years I have had eight in-patient admissions to psychiatric hospitals, have done three out-patient psycho-educational courses over a 17 month period, had constant therapy with either psychiatrists, psychologists or both, and have read a lot about mental health. Crikey, you'd think I'd be cured by now!

But it is not about finding the cure, it is about managing the condition, and I've learnt a lot along the way about how to keep my head above water, even when I felt the undertow was going to beat me.

Image source

I thought I'd share a few of my survival tips*:

1.      Maintain a good mental health care team

I've been going to the same general practitioners’ centre for seven years. I’ve changed doctors but have maintained my relationship with the surgery over the entire time. If you can find a good GP, stick with them. You don't have to keep telling your story over and over and they can tell when you're not doing well sometimes even before you know it yourself.

I also get all my medications from the one pharmacy. They keep my prescriptions on file and can let me know when I'm due for more. I've built a relationship with a couple of the pharmacists which makes it awesome knowing I've got more people on my team who understand my situation. I went there once during a panic attack when I was out shopping in the city with Noo because that was the closest safe place I could think of. I was supported through the attack while another staff member played with my son – definitely going beyond the usual pharmacy service!

I've had numerous psychiatrists and psychologists over the years. Some I’ve been with for two years or more, some for a very short time. It is critical that you bond with your therapist. You have to trust them with your story and believe that they offer good advice in return. If you feel you've outgrown your therapist or that they have provided all the advice you think they can offer, don't be afraid to move on. They won’t be offended. Your sessions are about YOU. Make sure you control the direction your therapy goes in but be open to new ideas as well. Seeing them regularly (I go once a fortnight) helps with the flow of the therapy.

2.      Family support, if you've got it, is critical – use it yet nurture it

I owe my survival to my family. They support me, especially helping with looking after Noo, but most importantly they listen to me. Especially my mum and my sister. My mum, particularly, has been instrumental in keeping me going over the last year. She lets me go over and over my thoughts and feelings as I try to understand what’s going on in my head. I know it has an incredible strain on her but she never tells me to leave her alone.

3.      Catch up with your best friends and be social to meet new ones

Since my huge lifestyle change from party girl to sole parent my offline social network has diminished. I have a few key girlfriends, most of whom I've known for a very long time. I can go weeks, even months without seeing them, but when we do catch up it is like no time has passed. Maintaining social contact with the world outside my family is sometimes hard for me because I don’t work and I tend to shy away from extending myself outside my comfort zones, especially when I'm unwell. I know, though, that it is good for my mental health if I do get out and connect with people. Meeting people at blogging conferences has been a great way to do this.

4.      Blogging

Blogging has been a real outlet for me. Writing the stories of my past as well as what I’m going through in the present has been really cathartic. For some reason though over this year I've stepped back from my blog. Writing has become a bit of a chore and I’ve become wary of bringing my readers down with the mood my posts.

I am trying to get back into the flow of it now Noo has started big school. Having a project that is all mine that I can work on at my own pace is really healthy for me too. It keeps me busy and using my brain. Even though I don’t work, I can’t just lounge around and read all day or watch TV – that just adds to my feelings of guilt and anxiety. Blogging is like an unpaid job that I am the boss of. The blogging community also provides much needed connection with the outside world and it is a source of support and inspiration.

5.      Pampering

I’m not very high maintenance but I do like to get my nails done every three weeks. I never miss an appointment and have become good friends with the lovely woman who does a great job on them. I love the whole process of deciding on a colour and having someone fuss over me for an hour.

6.      Zoning out

When I can watch the telly, after Noo has gone to bed, I love American shows like Girls, Game of Thrones and House of Cards. I also love going to the movies on my own. Watching the telly is such a great way to sit back and totally forget about my woes. My latest thing is to work on a “paint by numbers” painting at the same time. I started my first one last year and it is totally addictive but relaxing!

Reading fiction is also a great way to zone out but when my anxiety is high I find it very hard to focus. I used to read masses of novels as a way to escape reality but since anxiety has taken over from depression, it is a little harder for me to keep up with.

7.      Mindfulness

I've recently spent a bit of time learning about ‘mindfulness’. I highly recommend anybody, not just those with mental health issues, to look into it. I've been following a great iPhone app called Headspace that takes you through 10 minute mindfulness exercises. I've also listened to Pema Chödrön’s book called Getting Unstuck which made all sorts of sense about the way I can get myself so worked up over things. It also gives practical teachings on how to let go of old shit.

There’s still so much I need to learn about mindfulness and I also need to dedicate more time to actually practicing it.

If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll know I've suffered mental illness throughout most of my life. I know it is something that I will never be cured of, so self-care is survival. Medications and/or talk therapy alone aren't enough. Eating well and exercise are also important and are areas that I need to dedicate more time to.

I believe taking a holistic approach to mental health management is the best way to having a fulfilling life, armed with the tools to battle the bad times, as well as allowing the insight to acknowledge and embrace the great times.

What do you do to look after yourself?


*I am not a mental health care professional. These are my personal experiences and opinions. If you do think you need help with depression and/or anxiety, please seek help from a professional or call Lifeline 13 11 14.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Belkin: The lost review


Once upon a time, approximately 10 or so months ago, a lovely PR person got in contact with me about doing a review for the electronics accessory company Belkin. I was stoked to be asked because, as a bit of a gadget fanatic, I was keen to try some free products.

Time passed. I received some parcels and then I got sick. I had a play with the products but was not in the headspace to write about them. More time passed. I continued to be unwell and spewed forth blog posts about how bad I was feeling and just felt throwing a product review into the mix would seem kinda weird and out of place.

Now I'm feeling better I am finally ready to tell you about these products. I have now, after all, given them (one in particular) a pretty good workout!

The first product I was sent was the VideoCharge + ChargeSync which you actually can't buy any more, going by the Belkin website. I couldn't use this at the time because it was for the iPhone 4/4s and I have an iPhone 5. Luckily though my sister had an old iPhone and was able to give the VideoCharge a go.

The stand for the VideoCharge is excellent, with a heavy base and firm grip for the phone. This came especially in handy when FaceTiming with a grabby baby Mala wanting to get in on the call with her cousin Noo. Having the ability to charge the phone at the same time is also a good idea. We all know how fast iPhone batteries wear down!

Belkin VideoCharge + ChargeSync for iPhone 4/4s

When I told the PR company that I actually couldn't use the product they sent me, along came another parcel containing the Charge+Sync Dock for iPhone 5. I really like this dock. It is a great stand for my iPhone that I move around from my desk to my bedside table as required. I only had one complaint about it at the time. It didn't come with its own inbuilt lightning connector - you have to use your own. For the price it was at the time, I didn't think this was great value.

Now, all this time later, Belkin have upped the stakes and lowered the price! The MIXIT ChargeSync Dock for iPhone 5 now includes an inbuilt lightning connector and has come down in price to $39.95. Awesome! I want one.

Belkin Charge+Sync Dock for iPhone 5

So there you have it! I wasn't paid for this review but I was given the accessories shown in the photos above. I stand by my opinion and will most likely go out and buy the new MIXIT ChargeSync Dock for iPhone 5 with my own money so I don't have to keep moving the other one around.

And everyone lived happily ever after.

The end.


Disclosure: As previously mentioned I wasn't paid for this review I was, however, given the products shown in the photos above. All opinions are my own in accordance with my disclosure policy.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

When is the right time for kids to try alcohol?

"Noo, have a taste of this", my mother offered kindly. "It's delicious", she promised.

I was in the kitchen when I overheard this conversation going on in the hall.

"It's pear flavour", mum explained.

I looked around the kitchen and saw a half empty bottle of pear cider sitting on the kitchen bench.

"Nooooooo!" I screamed, running into the other room. "Don't let him have any of that! It's alcoholic!" Fear drummed through me. It was if I was about to take my first sip of alcohol in nearly six years.

"Oh! I'm so sorry! I didn't realise. I thought it was just sparkling pear juice, like apple cider", my well meaning mother apologised.

The feeling in me was so irrational, I know, but I don't want Noo to have any alcohol until he is of legal drinking age. Not even a little sip. I know that is a crazy expectation to have in this day and age. I can't be with him all the time but I want to do whatever I can to encourage him to wait until he is 18 years old before getting involved with booze and booze culture, if he chooses to at all.

Put it off for as long as possible - image source

I tried and got a taste for alcohol way too early. My parents took the "forbidden fruit" approach thinking it would be better to let us have a try of wine or beer at home rather than make alcohol forbidden, therefore allowing it to become more attractive to the naturally rebellious side of our teenage years.

This is a common way of thinking for parents of teenagers. As reported by Ward, Snow, et al, in their report The influence of parents and siblings on children’s and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol: A critical review of the literature (2010) prepared for DrinkWiseAustralia:
"Almost half of Australian parents believe that they should teach their children to drink at home before they reach the age of 18".
I'm not saying that my parents giving me a sip of wine at the dinner table is to blame for me abusing alcohol for 12 years but it certainly gave me a taste for it. Research shows that the earlier kids are given their first taste of alcohol, and this is usually under their parent's consent, the more likely they are to increase their alcohol use later in life:
"Longitudinal studies have shown that child reports of parental supply of alcohol for their last episode of drinking are a strong predictor of increased alcohol use over time. Overseas research suggests that when parents do not supply alcohol, adolescents do not increase their consumption of other alcoholic drinks." - The influence of parents and siblings on children’s and adolescents’ attitudes and behaviours towards alcohol: A critical review of the literature (2010)
Now I know my son is only five years old. And I really hope this issue is one I don't have to worry about for a while, but there are still things we, as parents, can do to help mould our kids' attitudes towards alcohol from a very early age.

I've seen in my Facebook feed, and around other websites I haunt, a great parenting quote that goes something like this: "kids will learn more from what we do, than from what we say". The DrinkWise website backs this up:
"Through observing adults drinking, children form their attitudes to alcohol early in life. The attitudes they develop during their younger years will affect how they make a range of important decisions regarding drinking alcohol in the future, such as: underage drinking, pace yourself or fill-up fast, drink and drive or take a taxi, binge drink to get drunk or drink sensibly, drinking every day or occasionally and so the list goes on."
As I'm close to clocking up six years of sobriety from alcohol, Noo has never seen me drink, and I hope he never will. His grandmother drinks rarely and his grandfather is a moderate drinker but Noo has never seen these two extremely important role models in his life, drunk. And I hope he never will.

One day I will tell him about the alcoholism that has plagued both sides of his family. One day I will tell him about my own troubles with booze. I will tell him that he has to wait until he is legally allowed to before he can have a drink. And I will hope that he will grow to be a self confident young person who will feel able to make healthy choices based on knowledge, rather than let himself be peer pressured into doing things he isn't comfortable with just to feel accepted by the crowd. My parenting choices, starting from the day he was born, will hopefully help him become that person.

I know these are grand aspirations I have for my little boy and for myself as his mum. But, you have to be positive in life, set goals, reach for the sky. Sure, mistakes will be made by both of us along the way. If temptation does get in the way and, like a lot of teens, Noo does sneak a taste of booze before he turns 18, the sky won't fall in. We will deal with it. Together.

How old were you when you first tried alcohol?

If you have kids are you going to let them try it at home first before
they turn 18 or make them wait?


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Monday, February 10, 2014

Words don't come easy

Words don't come easy to me
How can I find a way
To make you see
I love you
Words don't come easy
    F. R. David, 1982

I know this is such a daggy song but it always comes to my mind when I go to write a blog post and nothing comes out. And this is how I feel right now: The words don't come easy. They are there. The words. My head is swirling with them. Getting them out on the page screen is just so hard at the moment.

Maybe it is this new medication I'm taking for my headaches. It's called topiramate. One of its common side effects is "expressive language disorder". It's brand name is Topamax which has been given the unflattering nickname of Dopamax because it can make some people seem a bit, well, dopey.

I don't feel so dopey. I feel ok so far, just not overly motivated to write, despite my recent declaration that my blog was back.

One thing that I have decided is that I don't want my blog to make me feel guilty - I have so much guilt about other areas of my life. My blog is supposed to make me feel good. I don't want to fight for page clicks or Google rankings or comments or sponsors. I'll keep that little video ad on the right over there but I'm not looking for more advertisers.

I don't think I want to write about products right now but if something really relevant comes my way and I can be bothered, maybe. But I don't want to be stressed about it. I've had a sponsored post hanging over my head since before I went into hospital last year. The PR person has been awesome in not pressuring me to get out a post, considering the brand did send me the product, but I've felt really awkward about how to deal with it now.

Would it look and feel weird if I publish it now? I should, shouldn't I? Oh, I feel like a naughty school girl who hasn't handed in her homework. So unprofessional! But I've had other priorities, you know like staying alive and looking after my kid and getting my head in a functioning order.

The update on that (my head) is that it is functioning (despite the topiramate) and my mood is definitely a hell of a lot more stable than last year but I'm still not 100% (whatever that looks like). I have good days, bad days. Some days the anxiety just overwhelms me and it hurts me in such a physical way. Like a block of cement is laying on my chest and the back of my eyeballs are jittering and I just have to wait it out until it passes.

Yesterday was one of those days. I kept busy all day. I actually did housework. Vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom. For fucksake, I IRONED. I haven't ironed anything since 2007. I kind of understood why some people with anxiety, like my best friend, have to be doing stuff all the time. It sort of keeps your mind off the fluttering in your chest but it doesn't make it go away. I want it to go away forever.

There's nothing to be worried about of course. Noo loves big school. I have a little bit of money in the bank. My weight is going down but I'm not really obsessing about that at the moment anyway. I'm sleeping ok. Walking lots. Reading book four of Game of Thrones before the new season starts on the telly.

But that's Generalised Anxiety Disorder for you. It's GENERALISED.


Someone once told me "resistance is persistance". I just have to embrace my anxiety in order for it to go away. My current panic attack mantra is "I have anxiety and that is ok". I say it over and over. It works to some degree because rather than fighting it I'm learning to sit with it.

Learning to stay, as Pema Chodron would say.

And, would you look at that: Looks like I've found a few words to say too.

How are you going today?


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Monday, February 3, 2014

Where the bloody hell are ya?

Wow. It's been three months since my last confession blog post. I've been really looking forward to getting back into it but life has been busy. And stressful (when is it not for this little stress-head?). And, honestly, having a break from over analysing all my shit here has been nicely refreshing.

With Noo having started big school (that's right BIG SCHOOL!) last week, I'm so looking forward to having some time to myself so I can get back to doing more of the stuff I love, like blogging. And spending time with grown ups. And being by myself to do what I want to do. Oh, how I crave the ever cliched "me-time".

Here's a little catch up of what's happened while I was away...

I turned 39 years old

Truly amazing. And after enduring 2013, which turned out to be an annus horribilis to go down as one of the worst in my life, entering my 40th year is turning out to be pretty good so far.

There's was a time in my life I thought I'd never make 40, and I was proud of it. I was a rock star. Here for a good time, not a long time and all that. Times have certainly changed.

The party years

I'm not nearly as freaked out as I thought I'd be about entering my 40th year. I guess because I don't really feel 39. My body aches at times, yes. I gained 20 kilos in 2013 through depressive emotional eating. But I've now lost eight kilos since I joined the HAES movement. I'm learning to love my body how it is right now, rather than waiting for some miracle to occur that would magically turn my body into a socially acceptable shape and therefore worthy of love. Surprisingly, by doing this, I'm treating myself a lot better. And losing weight despite not being on a diet.

On my 39th birthday heading out for lunch with the family

Noo turned 5 years old

Another milestone birthday was celebrated. We went big for Noo's fifth birthday party, celebrating with all his little preschool mates at Luna Park. We celebrated not only his birthday but his graduating from the little daycare he has been attending since he was only 15 months old. We were both sad to see our time at Noo's daycare come to an end, but our family continues its connection with the school as my niece will be there a little while yet.

Celebrating Noo's fifth birthday at Luna Park

Our first summer school holidays

Noo and I had five full weeks together. The longest time he wasn't in any formal care since he was 15 months old. I was terrified I'd made the wrong decision in not enrolling him for January care but thought it would be a great time for us to hang out and do some cool stuff together.

We sure did get around: Hanging out with my sister and Noo's cousin Mala, Christmas, a couple of trips to the Blue Mountains, New Year's Eve with friends, Noo jumped on a blow up Stonehenge at Sydney FestivalDarling QuarterVikings at the Maritime MuseumTyrannosaurs at the Australian Museum, nearly every public pool in the inner Sydney region, contributed to building a Lego art piece at the Opera House, and many other fun activities. We had so many big days out that by the last week of the holidays my self-proclaimed "go-boy" Noo said he was tired and wanted a few days home to rest before starting big school.

Summer fun filled holidays!

Noo started kindergarten

Noo's start to his big school life couldn't have gone smoother. He was excited rather than nervous the night before and jumped out of bed like Santa had been the night before when I told him it was time to get ready for the big day ahead. I must admit that I was a bit anxious in the lead up to the first day. More because we'd both gotten used to late nights and 8.30am sleep-ins than worried he'd be scared to go to school. He was so looking forward to it after spending most of January missing his old preschool mates.

Neither of us cried. Shock bloody horror. I've cried a few times over the summer break, about things I can't write about, but leaving Noo at big school for the first time was not one of those times. His Grandpa and I took him on the bus into town. When we got to school there were so many big kids around I was really worried he'd be overwhelmed by it all. But no, not my confident little wonder-kid. He settled in just fine. Especially with his best little mate Justine Stark always by his side.

First day of school

So there you have it! It's nearly midnight and I have to be up super early. We have been renovating our new apartment over the last three months too. I have serious reno fatigue. Sick of strangers in the place, the dust, the moving shit around, blah. But let's not end on a negative note. 

Here's to getting back to some serious blogging in 2014.

Hoping you all have had a great summer break as well.


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