An Attempted Explanation

To all my family, friends and anyone who may be just curious,

I will hereby attempt to explain what is happening with my mental health issues. I will not go to deep into what is discussed between my therapist and me. Rather I will try to give an overview of what we are working on so as to alleviate some of the confusion that seems to be surrounding my condition. Firstly, is it depression or anxiety? Regrettably for me it is both and at the moment it is much more anxiety than depression. Depression and anxiety are blanket terms for a large number of symptoms and each person suffers in their own unique way. I will not try and speak for any other sufferer than myself (I have often considered the term ‘nervous breakdown’ a better description of my plight, but that term seems not to be used anymore). While this may seem rather long it is by no means the be all and end all of my issues and treatment, but I hope it clears up some of the confusion I continually run into.

I believe I have always been an anxious person and I was certainly a nervous kid. I was not molested or physically abused as a child. I also know friends and family that have been through similar or worse dramas than I have. Everyone is different and everyone deals with stress differently; everyone processes things differently. Unfortunately for me I am overly susceptible to adverse effects from emotional stress and it seems that I chose to bury it all away and ignore it from a very early age; as a result I became a very emotionally dethatched individual. This may have been a good survival mechanism for me as a child, but it is proving extremely troublesome in adult life.

I was somewhat of a clown which helped cover up my anxiety and detachment, but I could never properly express my emotions or get too close to people. Most of the trauma I have been suffering intermittently over the past fourteen years has been me trying to re-connect with all those repressed feelings and trying to rejuvenate my withered emotional core. I like to describe my previous self as a kind of Spock character, living only in the intellect and shunning emotions. I felt disconnected from the human race. I truly felt that everyone else was in the fish tank and I was outside looking in.

I have discovered that intense anxiety usually precipitates an emotional breakthrough. It is as if the anxiety acts as a smoke screen that prevents me from seeing something that may be painful (usually something from my childhood) or may cause a desire to grow or change in some way (obviously in an emotional sense rather than physically). I often emerge from these bouts with an altered point of view. None of this is exact and clear cut, it is definitely more art than science. We must remember that I am not a machine, but a complicated human being and the mind is an enigma that we have yet to unravel in any significant sense. Depression usually occurs through the exhaustion that results when the anxiety has been beating me down for too long.

While mine is not a purely chemical problem I am prescribed antidepressants to help alleviate some of my symptoms. Thus for me antidepressants work in a similar way as codeine would for a broken leg; they help lessen the pain so that I can get on with recovery. They do not remove my emotional problems, they merely make it possible for me to function better so that I can attend therapy and try and sort out my inner turmoil. This is the only way I can achieve any long lasting peace; the painstaking hard work of facing my inner demons one at a time and trusting in the process that there will be a light at the end. When your broken leg heals there will be a lot of painful rehabilitation you need to go through and you will need painkillers to assist you. Would it be advisable to simply pop the pills and not follow the advice of your physio and doctor? Also, do you think that taking a higher dose of painkillers will speed up the healing process? My issues are primarily emotional, maybe even spiritual and therefore drugs can only do so much.

The way in which antidepressants function greatly reduces the risk of addiction. It takes a long time for the medication to get into your system (maybe a few weeks) and therefore you do not get the direct hit from each dose that can lead to addiction. Benzodiazepines such as Valium, Xanax or Ativan work in much the same way as alcohol; you take the tablet and pretty soon you get the desired result, which in this case is relaxation. This is why these particular drugs need to be taken with great caution; the risk of addiction is extremely high! Unfortunately, sometimes my anxiety can reach intolerable levels and I desperately need some relief. I use Ativan only in small doses for extreme occasions and am closely monitored by my therapist. I am aware that people who genuinely seem to care about me believe that this whole thing is going on too long and maybe I should get some better medication. I hope my broken leg analogy helps with explaining this; there is only so much help one can get from medication. After that I am either only risking addiction, which will only multiply my problems, or I can walk around in a dazed stupor and become dysfunctional in a new way.

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I binge drank through most of my late teens and all of my twenties and this tended to keep the demons at bay most of the time. I had a few occasions where the anxiety and panic attacks knocked me down for a few days, but I always managed to get myself back on the beers and back on track. Sad as that seems this was what I thought my life would be. Not long into my thirtieth year my body let me know in no uncertain terms that I could no longer continue down this path and I had to either cut out the binging or become totally abstinent. Fortunately I was able to cut down my drinking quite drastically and I still enjoy a beer to this day. However, being without my crutch in those early months led to my first major depression which lasted six weeks in 2004.

For anyone that may be wondering, the reason I didn’t just switch to marijuana was because it never really grabbed me. I smoked pot through most of my late teens and I did enjoy it early on, but it eventually lost its appeal and I made beer my opiate of choice. Also becoming a pot-head would have been just another way of self-medicating.

Many years later at an AA meeting I realised that I could not return to binge drinking even if I wanted to; no matter how bad the emotional pain got, and no matter how much the beer helped numb the misery I could never go past a few drinks. Something now prevented me from drinking myself into oblivion. I knew the price I would have to pay tomorrow was never worth the minor relief I got tonight. That was both good and bad news. Great that I was not at risk of drinking myself to death, but terrifying that I could no longer hide out in a drunken fog.

In my later drinking days, my main drug of choice was speed; mainly because it let me drink more and for longer. On rare occasions I did experiment with ecstasy and cocaine, so I am no stranger to the euphoria that can be available if I really want it. However I am also aware of the massive ‘come down’ that follows these blissful journeys to paradise and I will not be risking those mini-nervous breakdowns anytime soon.

The reason I took this tangent is to try and explain to those people who may be wondering why I don’t just go out, get smashed and have a blast when I am depressed. The answer is simply “because the price is too high!”

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Another ‘solution’ I have heard numerous times is ‘hospitalization’ and to this I would like to recall to you what my therapist said to me when I suggested it to him during my second major depression which lasted over three months in 2008: “you won’t like hospital”. Hospital may be good if you have a private health fund or enough money to send yourself to a relaxing retreat.  Unfortunately for me I would first have to threaten suicide and then I would be jammed into an overcrowded ward in a public hospital surrounded by extremely unwell people watched over by overworked and understaffed social workers who can offer not much more than medication to shut us all up.

So what am I left with? Well therapy is first and foremost my best chance of breaking through this barrier. My other weapon is CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) the bread and butter of surviving anxiety. It involves challenging the negative thoughts and always doing the best you can to move on regardless of the fear. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. In my weakened state it can often be two steps forward one step back. It can even be three or four steps back! The only choice I have is to rest when I need to and then get up and try again. Sometimes I am running on pure hope and that is all I have to keep me going, but I need to have trust in my therapist and in my past experiences. I have had so many minor bouts of this shit I have lost count. The major ones came in 2004 (around six weeks), 2008 (around three months), 2012 (around three months and then a second bout later in the year of which I cannot remember the duration).

While all of these episodes had similar symptoms they all resulted in different outcomes, both emotionally and perspective wise. I usually ended up with a new direction that I felt I needed to take. This particular bout is unique in that I have not had to take any time of work (so far, touch wood) and I have been blessed with intermittent weeks of little or no symptoms. Sadly this is making it practically impossible to know if I am out of it or not (always a catch).

After all of my previous bouts I came out the other side with new insights into myself and a better understanding of my own emotional troubles. Does that mean I am confident that I will beat it this time? Certainly not! I am shit scared!!! But I do have hope and that can be plenty when you are on your ass. I just keep moving forward one day at a time (sometimes even 5 minutes at a time) and trust that there is a purpose to all this and I will reach a conclusion. One of the numerous mottos I go by may help explain this process for everyone: “the only way out is through”

One final comparison might offer a little more understanding. One serious bout was described to me by a counsellor as similar to a grieving process (imagine this for a person who cannot properly deal with their emotions!). It is a process that needs to be moved through and cannot be rushed. Greif has a lot to do with my problems, but that is a whole other essay. Suffice to say as bad as a wish I could complete some task or take a pill and be done with this crap, the only real way I can make it is with pure grit and determination; slowly but surely. The terrifying part is that there are no guarantees and a lot of the time I am running on blind faith.

I will probably never be rid of this shit; I will always need to be prepared for a bout now and then and I hope I can count on support from my family, friends and loved ones. I know I cannot do it alone and I am eternally grateful to all the wonderful people who have helped me through my various battles with these demons.

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Reading Australia Final Summative Entry

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So here we are at the end of another fascinating semester of Australian literature and what an experience it has been! Michael Griffith asks if Australian literature has helped me to expand the boundaries of my own experience. Well the answer is a resounding yes!!!

We began our odyssey with Judith Wright who tantalised our senses with her wondrous use of poetry. She vividly brought to life both landscapes and human emotions. She introduced us to the ‘weaver’; that enigmatic part of our mind that takes the random elements that our senses absorb from the external world and create a meaningful picture with which we can interact and explore. Reading this poem not only ignited my philosophical brain, but it also left me pondering the connection between the psyche and God.

The next wordsmith we met was Patrick White and his novel “The Tree of Man”; Wow! My last encounter with Patrick White was not very successful. After reading “Riders in the Chariot” I was left feeling rather confused and a little stupid. Maybe that experience better prepared me for this amazing novel! “The Tree of man” was a tough slog, I will not lie. However the wisdom and humanity I gleaned from the pages of this novel were astonishing. Patrick White assembles sentences like a consummate artist. He imbues all his characters with such realism and frailty that I cannot help but feel connected to every one of them. What kind of brilliant writer can compare God to a gob of spit and leave the reader not only taking it seriously, but wanting to write a complete essay on it!

The writer who had the greatest impact on me this semester was without a doubt Francis Webb. This tortured soul possessed a sublime ability to transcend the hideous depths of mental illness and create glorious poetry; although many of them can be very difficult to decipher. I would never have been able to understand and enjoy this awesome writing were it not for the combined efforts of Michael Griffith and my classmates to break down each verse and find the remarkable meanings hidden in these life-affirming gems. My own battles with mental illness were given meaning and even made seemingly heroic by this tormented writer. Francis Webb impelled me to see the value in all people and that also includes me! Self-worth and humility I take away from these readings.

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We were all re-introduced to David Malouf through his novel “The Conversations at Curlow Creek”. Here is a literary talent to challenge even the amazing Patrick White. A seemingly simple, yet dreadfully morbid, tale of a man appointed to execute a captured bush-ranger manages to plum the depths of human experience. The conversations between the soldier and condemned man, together with numerous flashbacks to the soldiers past explore so many themes: Does evil exist, does God exist and is He all-forgiving, the fact that good and bad can be so subjective, socially constructed roles and hierarchy, love, jealousy, death, empathy and so much more in such a short novel. Just as with “The Tree of Man” I found myself intimately connected with the hopes and fears of all of the characters. We may all have had different backgrounds and be headed in different directions, but deep down we are all fundamentally flawed human beings.

Finally we read “My Place” by Tracey Morgan and received a rare insight into an indigenous perspective of the Australian experience. One of the most heartbreaking things about this story was the fact that Tracey Morgan’s mother and Nan were too frightened to let Tracey and her siblings even know they were aboriginal. What a heinous blight on our national history that our very own native people do not wish to own up to their origins! Tracey’s Nan seemed even ashamed of her heritage and tragically took so many possibly illuminating stories to the grave with her. I read this story many years ago in high school and it was probably my first encounter with the pain and humiliation suffered by this countries original inhabitants. As a nation we still have a long way to go, but we need to hear these tragically taboo tales. So many times while reading this book I felt angry and ashamed of my own ‘white’ heritage, but I also felt elated and optimistic with every small victory Tracey won on her journey toward her re-connection with her people and spirituality. The crimes of the past must be brought out into the light if we ever hope to heal. Stories do matter and can connect souls in a much deeper way than mere facts.

So many heart wrenching, heart warming, inspirational, question raising stories and poems. Therefore I have no qualms announcing that these amazing writers definitely expanded the boundaries of my own experience. It has been an intellectually stimulating, spiritually enlightening and emotional journey. I have had a lot of turmoil in my life this year in dealing with anxiety and depression. It has been a blessing to explore these literary artists; and a joy to take the journey with Michael Griffith and my curious and perceptive classmates.

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Peer Review 8

You seemed to have received a double helping of food for thought from David Malouf’s visit. I too was surprised to hear his views on assimilation, yet I am sure his parents must have played a part in this decision. It seems odd to me having grown up with children with parents from so many different countries. Every Saturday I would see them being forced to go to school in order to learn the language and history of their family of origin. Maybe David Malouf’s parents were not interested in this for him, or maybe he didn’t have access to it. While I certainly wasn’t envious of my friends having to go and do extra classes on Saturday, I really wished I could speak another language. The usual lazy person’s lament; I want the benefits without the effort. I think it is important to know your heritage and in this day and age it is a definite advantage to speak a second language.

https://gabriellechidiac98.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/d-m-visit-to-acu/#respond

Blog 8: It starts with an A and ends with an O

One word can cause so much pain, re-ignite such grief and resentment. “It’s just a word” I may say to try and explain it away. But I cannot deny my own eyes; this ‘harmless’ word has cut deep. I cannot deny my heart; it senses the heartache I have caused. I wish I could just disappear.

I was sitting at my local pub many years ago, one night with two older koori ladies that I loved and cared for very much. One was my mates’ mother and the other a local lady we knew well. We were enjoying a few drinks and many laughs. The word simply rolled off my tongue during a story, just like it had so many times before. I cannot believe I had managed to avoid such a dreadful situation for so long having this word in my vocabulary. I guess we really do know that there are times when this so called harmless word should not be used. It just flowed from my mouth like any other word as if it was completely innocent. As soon as it reached their ears I knew I had slung a vicious slur that I would have done anything to take back.

Their faces instantly turned from amused and interested to confused and concerned. It wasn’t anger that I sensed, it was bitter disappointment. They knew I loved them and I know they loved me, but this was an error that could not go unnoticed. I can still hear the way my mate’s mother so slowly and deliberately said “I haaaaaate that word”. I felt about two inches tall.

I will never forget this horrible moment and the shame it left me with. Nor will I forget the kindness offered to me from these two beautiful women. Rather than hurling abuse or a giving me a stern lecture, they took the time to explain to me the pain they felt every time they heard that word. They shared stories of how cruelly it had been used against them and their loved ones. I will always remember and cherish their patience and forgiveness. So many important lessons in life we learn outside the classroom.

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Peer Review 7

Hi Daniel
It is a brave act to put your writing out there these days. It seems that there is a never-ending platform for writers and your work will probably just be lost in the overpopulated chaos. One may well ask; so what’s brave about sending something out that no body will probably ever read? Firstly, the silence can be deafening. Lack of feedback can be extremely deflating and writers must be prepared for this. Secondly though is that the line I wrote was that no bod’ would ‘probably’ ever read it; which means that there is always a chance that some random person will find your little message in a bottle and you will connect with that person on a subconscious level. Someone you will never meet has read a piece of your psyche and has felt a kinship with it. How cool is that?

Keep doing what you are doing 🙂

https://danielognenovski96.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/lessons-from-francis-webb/

Blog 7: The Conflict Between Outer and Inner World

The soul of a wistful Irishman imprisoned in the avatar of a straight-laced trooper whose duty it is to enforce the British laws regardless of sentiment. A diligent and rigidly disciplined exterior would be imperative armour for the protection of such an empathic and humane inner world. The dichotomy in Michael Adair’s psyche must have been torture! The fact that he spent the night respectfully conversing with the man he would eventually have to kill is testament to a benevolence and courage I doubt I would be able to muster. I am certain I would be seated with the gruff and seemingly uncaring men around the fire, trying to distance ourselves from the humanity of Daniel Carney and the abhorrent task we must perform in the morning.

Reading this book I was continually reminded of the beginning scenes from the film “The Crying Game”. This 1992 movie became famous for a very clever plot twist, but for me it always raised so many other questions. The relationship between Fergus and Dil brings up the eternal question of what love actually is. However it was the relationship between Fergus  and Jody  in the beginning of the story that kept creeping up while I read “Conversations at Curlow Creek”. Fergus was an IRA member and Jodi was a kidnapped British soldier in Fergus’s custody. It is easy to hate someone from a distance.; to imagine the ‘enemy’ as an evil person who is void of emotions and decency. How can you maintain that contempt if you actually talk to the person and begin to understand their humanness and the path that lead them to be on the ‘side’ that they are on? Life is very rarely cut neatly into ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’.

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Peer Review 6

“So here goes nothing” I love it! I have grappled with this conundrum since I was a child. I am frightened of dying and becoming nothing. How Can I be afraid of nothing? What is nothing? Can I imagine nothing? No, because to imagine is to think and that is something. That time we lose when we are asleep and are not dreaming is the best I can come up with; and that is painless I guess. It is everything-less as a matter of fact. Trippy!
It always amuses me when I ponder the lyrics of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”:
“Mamma, I don’t wanna die
Sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.”
As you have already said: before we are born we are nothing; so to have never been born at all is a form of death. Therefore we have already experienced death. What more can one say: “So here goes nothing”

https://readingaustraliablog.wordpress.com/2017/09/24/blog-6/#respond

Blog 6: Allegory or Metaphor (I always get those mixed up)

Francis Webb often seemed to hide his meaning deep within his poems. Many times I have been surprised to discover the theme of one of his mysterious writings. It intrigues me to try and imagine why he did this: was he trying to be difficult? Did he simply enjoy this style? Was it the only way he could express such deep emotions and ideas? Was he merely acting as a conduit for an intuition he had to appease? I do not yet have the answer and there may well not be one.

A long time ago I had a go at writing in this style, but it was not by accident or an attempt to be clever. In 2008 I suffered a crippling bout of severe depression that floored me for many months. I was laying on the warm concrete one day in a desperate hope that the sun might inject some life into my defeated soul. With my eyes closed I had a vision of the flourishing tomato plants that used to reside in our now fruitless and weed stricken garden. At that moment I decided I would get up and start preparing it for some fresh plant life. This was a basic attempt to give myself something productive to do and maybe keep my mind active for a while to keep the demons at bay.

For some reason, and possibly by coincidence, this moment sticks in my mind as the moment the trajectory of that depressive episode turned for the better. Of course this is not the be all and end of my treatment; I was seeing a therapist and regularly attending 12 step meetings, and this was the true crux of my recovery. However I will never forget how my improvement moved along with the cultivation of the garden. By the time the garden was lush with delicious ripe tomatoes I was back at work, feeling much better about life and myself; and making plans to begin the journey that eventually lead me to university.

I am not so impressed with the poem as a work of art, but I love what it represents!

THE GARDEN

 

Desolate, barren, soil.

Scrawny, debris of lifeless plants.

Once so rich and vibrant.

An abundant harvest.

Now withered and decayed.

Dead.

 

We must remove the old expired vegetation.

We must eliminate the old,

To make room for the new.

Extract the weeds.

The devious parasite,

Yearning to take over.

 

A clean slate.

We turn the soil.

We add nutrients.

Create a place that will sustain life.

A place that will nurture life,

Promote growth.

 

Plant the seedlings.

They are tiny and fragile.

They will need our care and attention.

But they will need to find their own potency.

In the end, we can but watch.

It is up to nature.

 

We wait and see.

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Peer Review 5

I remember feeling the same way about this book when I first read it. It was tough going and I felt that the story went nowhere. The real joy came when we discussed it in class with Michael Griffith and among ourselves. So many hidden gems were uncovered and then we each added our ideas and interpretations. So much wisdom was gleaned from this rather short novel that it is now one of my favourites; just as David Malouf is now one of my favourite authors. I hope you enjoy and fully participate in the discussions that follow. It is a way of not just better understanding the book, but also adding a whole new bunch of fascinating layers to it!

https://parnellpoetryoriginals.wordpress.com/2017/09/13/remembering-babylon-short-review/

Blog 5: (attempting to) Illustrate with Words

The past two weeks I have heard so many mentions of the limitations of language when it comes to conveying ideas and concepts in our class. Last week we discussed the monumental task of trying to capture the full scope of a natural scene with just adjectives and metaphor. This week we read and listened to Francis Webb’s description of the near impossibility he felt trying to get his intended message across. What chance do us beginners have!!!

I realised I have recently made an honest attempt at this (although my subject was somewhat darker) and would be curious to see how I went. I suffer from anxiety and depression and I have been under attack quite a lot lately by my inner demons. One particularly rough day I felt an overwhelming urge to draw this nasty son of a bitch, but sadly realised that I have NO drawing ability; so I decided to use the tools I have at my disposal; words.

I wrote the following poem and think that I captured this horrid beast in all its ominous glory:

 

Huge claws wrap around my middle

Crushing my insides

Stomach churns

Aches

Huge mouth lowers onto my head

Biting my skull

Sharp pointed teeth pierce the skin

Puncture the bone

Stabbing my brain

I cannot see a body

This monster hangs on my back

It doesn’t look angry

It doesn’t look happy or sad.

It looks insatiable

It looks ravenous!

 

To my amazement, less than a week later I saw a cartoon on Facebook containing an image that depicted, what I believed, was my own personal monster! I guess I will always have to deal with this insidious goblin, but it was sweetly soothing to see that I was not alone. I am personally awed by the similarity, but only I can know what was in my head. Of course it is not exactly the same, but what it is doing is so exact it’s eerie.

I would be interested to hear if the words I wrote produce a comparable image for you readers.

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