Friday, June 18, 2010

Apparently, all you need is faith and god

As I said in my last blog, I have grown increasingly depressed as the days have grown shorter, and the nights longer. I was coping, but on Tuesday an unexpected phone call pushed me over the edge. For the first time in my 58 years I suffered a full blown panic attack. I didn't know it was a panic attack - I thought I was dying. When I felt a bit better, I drove the 10 minutes into Raglan to the doctors' surgery. Won't do that again!

When I got there I was taken into the nurse's room, and she asked about what was wrong and felt my pulse briefly - I guess it wasn't racing wildly. She said it was probably a panic attack, but that I could wait and see a doctor, so I said, 'yes, please.'

After 20 minutes she had do do something else, and told me that I couldn't wait by myself but that I had to go to another room -  with someone who turned out to be a counsellor and who also asked me what happened and a whole lot of other questions. In just 20 minutes she assessed me and told me I needed counselling, that I should get a job, and that I should stop caring so much for my sons, saying that worrying about your adult children is controlling behaviour. In the matter of the job, she asked if I was working: I was silent for a minute then said, "I work, but I am not in paid employment" to which she replied, "so you have no qualifications." Seemed like a bit of a leap to me! I responded saying that I have a degree in psychology, to which she replied, "So you should be a teacher." She also insisted that having two of my adult sons and my lovely daughter-in-law living with Mac and me must be a terrible strain on me, and refuted my statement that they are my friends, and that it is a joy not a strain. I then told her that I had not asked for counselling, and didn't want it from her, and repeated (as I had said to the nurse, and to this woman several times already) that I wanted a medical check up, not unsolicited advice. I was obviously upset and angry. So at that point she finally went and found the doctor.

Should have stuck with the counsellor. The doctor started asking all the same questions. After the first few questions, she put the blood pressure cuff on my arm - and left it dangling there. She asked about what happened and when I spoke of being depressed, and talked about Seasonal Affective Disorder, she asked how long I had been depressed. I told her that I had been depressed on and off since I was 16. Then she wanted to know what brought on that first depression. I told her I didn't want to discuss it, that I just wanted a physical check up. She reached forward - and removed the blood pressure cuff, saying she couldn't help me unless I let her, by answering all her questions.

At this point I started falling apart again. I started crying. She repeated that either I told her what she wanted to know or she couldn't help me, and stood up.

Why didn't I get up and leave? I don't know, except that I was still very scared about the physical symptoms of my attack. No, not scared - bloody terrified. I could feel my heart starting to race again, my breathing getting faster.

So I told her. I told her of a believer's very sudden loss of faith in the god of her youth. I told her of my GP's reaction: "Stop being so selfish and worrying your mother or I'll get you locked up in Tokanui (psychiatric hospital) and make sure you get shock treatment." This was New Zealand in 1968 - the days when they really did strap people down and administer Electroconvulsive Therapy - and if that didn't work it was still possible to get a lobotomy. (It was still happening in the early 70s when I worked at Tokanui.) She didn't ask how I survived that particular episode of suicidal depression. I told her that I didn't want to discuss it ever again with a doctor. I repeated that I wanted a physical examination. She became very angry with me, saying that not all doctors are the same.

Furthermore, she said, she could prove to me that God exists, and asked if I would like her to do so. Yes, this was the GP, the General Practitioner, the Medical Doctor - not the local priest. I said, 'no thanks' to which she said, well there's nothing I can do for you then, and gestured towards the door. I repeated that I wanted a physical examination, and she repeated that she couldn't help me unless I cooperated fully. So (yes, I know now that I was foolish, but remember, I was in the middle of deepest depression and panic) I said, 'okay, go ahead.'

After a long rant about the miracle of the human body and how it works at a cellular level,  she said, 'so you must agree there must be a god.' I said no, I didn't agree and that I wanted a physical examination.

This doctor then told me that there is no such thing a purely physical condition, and went on to describe the placebo effect: how in some study somewhere, they took a bunch of people with heart disease, and operated on them all, except half were only cut open and sewn back up, with no actual work done inside. After several weeks, she said, they were all assessed at having the same level of health. She said that what I needed to do was to have faith in the perfect body that god had given me and then I'd be cured. I repeated that I wanted a physical examination.

She was angry, took my blood pressure and pulse, listened to my heart and lungs, said that my blood pressure was high but that "that was to be expected,"and that there was nothing else she could do to help someone who wouldn't cooperate. No blood tests for B vitiamins, Vit D, iron levels (I've been vegetarian for 40 odd years) or anything else. And so she opened the door and ushered me out.

My husband, sons and daughter-in-law are holding me together at the moment, and I'm gradually feeling the anxiety lifting. The depression's still there, but I keep reminding myself that in a few weeks that too will lift as the days get longer. However, there's going to be another winter next year, and there are going to be more shocks in the future (that's the nature of life) and I really don't know where to turn for help.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Colour Amidst the SADness

This time of the year is so hard for me. I have suffered from depression for most of my life, however it took me a long time to realise that it was worse in winter, and even longer to discover this winter sadness had a name: Seasonal Affective Disorder.

This year it's been a little different. I've had a couple of pretty bad days but in the main, I've been able to live with the huge weight of SADness - an overwhelming grief for something unknown really. I live with it by constantly repeating the mantra: this will pass, the colour and light will come back into my world. And by reminding myself of how many days it is until the longest night, until the days start getting longer again and the nights shorter. It is, in fact, just a week away: seven more nights, seven more days.

A couple of days ago, when the weight of the grief of the entire world seemed so heavy I could hardly walk, I took my camera and went, slowly, looking for colour in my life. This is what I found:
 The arctotis my friend Jenny recommended glow through the darkest of winter.
 This wind battered plant has both red berries and small yellow flowers at the same time!
 The gorse may be a weed, but as well as acting as an excellent nursery plant, it brightens my days.
 The bottlebrush provides colour but also food for the bees and bumble bees.
 'Spring' bulbs - such optimism!
 Tagasaste - a magic tree: provides food for bees, other insects, birds, goats, wind shelter, and at the end, really hot burning firewood for a future winter.
 Potted wallflowers
 and the first grape hyacinth.
 One of our banks is covered with what was originally a small root from my mother-in-law's garden.
 It's been icy-cold but windy so no frosts yet to wipe the smiles from the nasturtiums.
 The magic of pinus radiata - these glorious fungi.
 Even the ugliest grey warty pumpkin
 glows inside.
 And the blackest of skies hold a promise.