Sunday, 31 August 2008

Can This Really Be August?

I'm sitting here at my laptop considering whether or not to put a light on. Fortunately I can touch type, so I don't need to see the keys to be able to write a post, but for goodness sake, this is 8.45am on the last day of August, and the sky should be blue and the sun should be shining.

But this year, August in London has been a bit of a washout. Okay, we have been lucky and not had the floods that have occurred in some other parts of the country, but not only has there been a lot of rain, there have also been days on end when we haven't seen a hint of sunshine.

So I'm sitting here in the dark, listening to thunder rumbling about in the distance, and mourning the summer that we haven't had this year. In fact, just as I was typing that sentence, the rain started to fall and it is getting worse as the seconds pass. It looks as though it may be a day to be spent indoors.

I Lost Saturday - But Why?

Friday evening was spent watching a bit of television and then spending an hour or so doing some proofreading for Project Gutenberg. I went to bed at a reasonable hour and after reading a few pages from my current bed-time book, I fell asleep quickly. I think that I slept pretty well, I certainly didn't wake up until about 7am, but as it was Saturday, a day that I treat as 'my day' so I can do whatever I want, I decided to stay in bed for a little longer. But before I got too carried away with doing my thing, I decided that I ought to take my morning medication, so I got the pills, knocked them back with a really good drink of water, and then tidied up the bed before climbing back in it again. If I fell asleep again, that was fine, but otherwise I thought that it would be nice to lie in bed reading my book before getting up to do some chores.

I'm not sure how long I read for, I don't think it was for very long, and I don't remember feeling myself dropping off. but I woke up again at about midday, looked around me, and promptly fell asleep again. I next woke at about 5.30pm, then at 9.15pm, at which time I managed to drag myself out of bed, make myself something to eat, and then eat it. So that was Saturday gone, but the problem was I wasn't sure why or how this had happened.

I have written before about how I have periods where I don't sleep properly and then quite suddenly my body just decides that it can take no more and I seem to spend a day sleeping to allow my body, and probably my brain, to recuperate. However, although I had not been sleeping well for some days, I didn't think that I was that bad yet and if I was to have one of these periods it probably would not come for at least another week. But I realized that there might be another explanation.

Now before you start to think, "She's lost her marbles", I'm going to head off at a bit of a tangent here, but I can assure you it is relevant, and you'll understand where I am coming from in the end. I am very good and always read the patient information leaflet included with prescription drugs (and usually over-the-counter medication too), paying particular attention to the section about possible side-effects. I know that most people never suffer from any of these undesirable effects, some may suffer from one of them, very rarely maybe more that one, but they do represent a 'get-out clause' for the drug manufacturers if you happen to be one of the unfortunates who do react to the drug. I wasn't always so conscientious in this matter, but I had some quite serious reactions to a couple of anti-depressants in the early days of my depression, when we were still trying to find the right drug for me, so since then I have made sure that I am aware of what may happen when I take a new medication.

On Friday my GP started me on medication for my high blood pressure and yesterday morning I took my first dose. The leaflet says quite clearly, in two separate places, that the tablets may make you feel sleepy, so is it possible that it was this tablet that caused me to spend so much of the day asleep? When I took the tablet yesterday, I took it on an empty stomach; this morning I have made sure that I have had something to eat before taking it. Now I have to see what happens as the morning progresses. I'll be honest and say that although I slept pretty much all day yesterday, I had absolutely no trouble sleeping last night. And I can't but help think that I could lie down again now and easily go off to the Land of Nod.

So I am going to have to take things easy today, see how I feel as the day and the week progresses, and if I can't stop sleeping perhaps pay my GP another visit just to check that things are alright.

Friday, 29 August 2008

I Seem To Have Spent The Day With Doctors

With it being Friday, it was psychotherapy day, which meant a night of interrupted sleep, an early exit from the house and a trip to the bus stop to catch a bus to the hospital. I'm a bit paranoid about timekeeping, and I was a little late setting off this morning, so when the wait for the bus seemed a little longer than normal I worried (absolutely needlessly) about being late for my appointment. The bus eventually arrived, and because the kids are still on summer holiday, and because the traffic seemed a little lighter than normal, I arrived at the hospital with time to spare. Not as early as normal, but still early.

Today's session started as usual with me being struck dumb and unable to express myself in any way, but my psychotherapist has become used to this and after a couple of minutes always makes a little comment, half couched as a question, and I generally start talking from that point, and rarely stop for long during the session. When I do take a break from talking, there is usually a simple question about how I was feeling at the time that I am talking about, and off I go again.

If you were asked to talk about yourself for 50-60 minutes, you would probably find it quite difficult. Then imagine what it is like having to do that to someone who is a total stranger on a weekly basis. It is difficult, it is very difficult, and you end up going to places in your mind and finding memories that you didn't know existed. It is an emotional roller-coaster that can be very traumatic at the time that you are talking about those memories, but which can ultimately become therapeutic because of the knowledge of yourself that you gain from the experience.

Today, for the first time, the session did not revolve around my relationships with my family and the causes of my beginning to start to suffer from depression. Today the session was emotional for a different reason because it revolved around the reasons for my having to seek early retirement on medical grounds. It was looking at how difficult other people find it to know what to say or do when confronted by someone with mental illness, how we suffer from discrimination in the workplace because of something over which we have no control, and how it makes you feel when you find yourself in these kinds of situations.

I have to admit that I was quite glad to get outside and start to walk to the bus stop to catch the bus for my journey home.

This afternoon, I had another encounter with a doctor; this time it was a visit to see my GP. Up until a year ago I was blessed with having perfect blood pressure. Then suddenly instead of a text-book perfect BP, it started to rise. The situation has been monitored and the possibility of medication has been discussed. The last time I went to see him, my GP was concerned about the level of anxiety that I was exhibiting, and as a result of this, and the fact that I was finding it difficult to climb out of the depression that I was in, he decided to change my medication. This was my first visit since the change and he commented immediately how much more relaxed I seemed. I knew that he was going to check my BP, he had told me he would the last time we met, so I was prepared for it. To make sure that I was relaxed, I set off for the surgery early, booked myself in, and sat in a quiet corner of the waiting room reading a book to take my mind of things and to get myself into a calm state. Once in the consulting room, and after the pleasantries had taken place, the cuff was put on my arm and I was told to sit back in the chair, close my eyes and to concentrate on my breathing. GP then proceeded to get me into as relaxed a state as he could before pressing the button on the machine. But even after this attempt to get me calm and relaxed my blood pressure was still much higher than it ought to be. At least we both did our best to make sure that it was a measurement taken without the influence of a stressful situation, but the result is yet another tablet to be taken each day.

We then talked about how my psychotherapy was going, the reasons for my feeling low at the moment, but how I wasn't feeling as bad as I expected allowing for the time of year and the anniversaries that will occur next week, and that I felt the change in medication had brought this about. We talked about how I wanted to be monitored in the future, although that won't start until my BP is under control, and I said that I would like to settle into a routine of monthly appointments, which is what I had become used to over the years, but that obviously if things got very bad, additional appointments would be made.

It was a long, totally unhurried consultation (but before anybody complains about me making my GP late for his following patients, it was a prebooked double appointment). I left feeling that I had been treated as a person, not just a number on a balance sheet, and that I had been properly allowed to take part in determining the way in which future management of my health will be conducted. Somehow I really don't think that would be possible if Gordon Brown and Lord Darzi are allowed to ruin the NHS in the way they plan to. I know I won't get treatment like that in a polyclinic.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Every New Mother's Nightmare

My husband and I didn't have children, so I am not writing this post as a result of my experience, but many of my friends have children and something that quite a few of them have commented on was how difficult and scary it was trying to pick up their first child for the first time. I can understand this because to start with the baby is placed in your arms, you haven't had to pick it up from scratch, and trying to pick up something that is alive and wriggling could, quite rightly, be a bit worrying. After all, you don't want to drop it, or hold it too tight, or worse still, incorrectly so that you could damage this precious new thing.

So for anyone who has been in this position, I think that viewing this will make you realise how much easier it probably was to make that first attempt than it was for the new mother shown here.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

I'm Hoping To Have A Very White Christmas

I know it's not September yet, but I am already looking forward to Christmas. For someone who lives on their own this is a very strange thing to say. In the past, except for a couple of occasions (once when I was on duty and another occasion, before I was married, when my oldest friend and I went to stay with her sister and brother-in-law who were serving in Malta ) my husband and I always spent Christmas with my parents. When my husband died I stopped enjoying Christmas; although I still went and spent the period with my parents, I felt very lonely, and it was not a happy time. My mother died in October 2003 so Christmas that year was a quiet occasion with just my father and I. Then a few days before Christmas 2005, my father died very suddenly. When I got back from the hospital (I had gone with him in the ambulance) I had to face phoning all the family and friends to let them know what had happened, but one of the things that was weighing on my mind was how was I going to face Christmas on my own. Fortunately one of my friends phoned me later in the day and said that I should go and spend Christmas with them (my husband and I are god-parents to both their children) so that I wouldn't be on my own. I spent Christmas 2006 with them too, and we had a wonderful time. God-daughter and her fiancé were there and we had a truly spectacular dinner and lots of presents, and truth to tell probably a bit too much to drink. But we enjoyed ourselves.

Last Christmas, I decided to bite the bullet and stay on my own. It's just as well I did because the week before Christmas I started to go down with a cold. I had my usual monthly appointment with my GP and he commented that I didn't sound too well and I told him it was a combination of being the anniversary of my father's death, the thought of Christmas on my own and the fact that the cold I had seemed to be getting worse and going to my chest. He checked me over and found that my sinuses were blocked and it sounded as though I might be developing bronchitis. Because it was so near Christmas, and I have a history of some quite severe chest infections since my husband died, he decided that I ought to have some antibiotics to take just in case the worst happened. It did, on Christmas Eve. I found that I could hardly breathe, if I coughed it felt as though my chest would explode and I felt like death warmed up. Christmas was spent wrapped up in bed, and Christmas dinner was a chicken curry warmed up in the microwave.

This year I am going to stay with friends in Canada. I had hoped to go to see them in June, but because I had recently started psychotherapy it was thought that it would not be a good idea to go at that time. I told them that I would be over later in the year and they were happy with that. Then a couple of weeks ago I was asked if I would like to go for Christmas, and I said yes.

I should explain that the person I go to stay with is someone who did her nursing training with my mother, and was bridesmaid at my parents' wedding. A couple of years after I was born she went to work in Canada and ended up marrying a Canadian widower with four children. They then had another four children, so it is a large family. My mother and her friend corresponded regularly through the years and my parents often went out to Canada to stay with them. Once the younger children had grown up, Canadian friends came over to England for holidays with my parents. Then friend's husband died and she came over more regularly and on one visit, the year my parents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, she came over to England, and while she was over came for a couple of weeks in Corfu with us. Since my mother died I have been to stay with her three times, once when my father was also staying there, and twice since he has died. She is like a mother to me, and often talks of the things that they got up to when they were doing their training. Her youngest daughter, who is about 10 years younger than me, says that I feel more like a sister to her than her own sisters do even though we see each other so rarely; however, we do correspond regularly by email. All of her children treat me as one of the family so it as though I have a lot of brothers and sisters who live far away.

This evening it was my turn to phone (we usually speak each week) and we were talking about the weather (it's been a wet summer in the Toronto area too), how the humming birds seemed to feeding ready for their flight south for the winter, and how the leaves on the trees were changing colour early this year (the maples are truly spectacular when they change colour). Then the subject turned to Christmas and the hope that it would be a white one, like last year, and how youngest daughter was really excited at the thought of me being there for Christmas and how she was already planning things that we would do together.

A white Christmas at home is something that I have to think really hard to remember, so the thought of Christmas with snow maybe a couple of feet deep is like imagining scenes from a Christmas card. I'm going to have to get some clothes to keep me warm, but I don't expect to have too much of a problem with the cold because when I was in the RAF, one of my postings was to a squadron that regularly deployed to a base north of the Arctic Circle, so I have experienced temperatures of -35 degrees Celsius and lived to tell the tale. If you go out in that temperature without a scarf to cover your nose, when you breathe in you can feel all the moisture and the hairs in your nose instantly freeze. A truly bizarre feeling the first time it happens.

So there it is. After years of hating Christmas, I am looking forward to it again. I know that I will undoubtedly think of the people that I wish could be there, but I will have my other family around me, and lots of new experiences too I expect.

Replacing The Victorian Mains And The Problems It Is Causing

A few weeks ago, when I was having Internet problems and was having to use the computers at the local library, I wrote a post about the noise that was being made just outside the library. I commented that as the roadworks were outside a school on the corner opposite the library that I hoped that they would be finished before the children went back to school.

I know that these works are necessary and are part of the programme to replace London's Victorian water mains, but they are causing havoc in the local area and look set to carry on for some time yet around here. Among the problems that we have had to put up with is bus stops being put out of use as it is impossible for the buses to stop where the roadworks are. In the main this is not too much of a problem for me as having to walk to another stop does mean that I get a bit of extra exercise, but unless I have been where the roadworks are in the last day or two, I am never sure which bus stops are in operation and which aren't, and, as I said, the extra walk is not a problem for me but it may be for some of the more elderly residents.

Anyway, I went out this morning to collect a parcel from the local sorting office and to do a bit of shopping. I hadn't walked in this direction for more than a week, so I wasn't aware that a new set of roadworks had been started and that the main road on which the local library and the primary school are situated, is now down to one lane for a distance of about 100m or so. This means that the bus stop nearest my home is now out of use, but more importantly so is the crossing outside the school.

The road is a busy one, and can be extremely difficult to cross, so the pelican crossing outside the school is the one safe place to get from one side of the road to the other. During term time there is a lollipop man to help the children across morning and afternoon, but the crossing is also used by those of us wanting to get to the library, as the library is situated on a bend and the pelican crossing is the only safe place to cross.

A three-way temporary traffic light system has been put into place to control the flow of traffic, but I can't help wondering how difficult things are going to be in a couple of weeks when the children go back to school. The length of time that it takes to do each of these stretches that the workmen dig up, means that it will probably be something like a month, or perhaps more, before things get back to normal. So why have they left it until the end of the school holidays to start on this stretch of road?

I have to admit that while the work has been going on in my local area, I have wondered a number of times who is in charge of deciding which bit will be done when. And why do the workmen seem to be taking quite so long to do the work?

I just hope that the sub-contractors who are being used aren't involved in any work for London 2012 because it is certain that they wouldn't manage to get it done in time!

A Landmark

I published my previous post, viewed my blog, and as I scrolled down, the number of visitors had reached 1000. This is truly a landmark for me.

I started this blog as an experiment, an experiment that I didn't think would last for long. But it has turned out to be quite therapeutic, it has helped me to focus my thoughts at times when it has been quite difficult to do so, it has allowed me to tell people what it is like to have to live with depression and the stigma that such a diagnosis brings with it, and it has allowed me to make some friends that I would never have met otherwise.

I know that 1000 is not a very large number when compared to the counters on some blogs, but for me it is a huge achievement. I know that many of these visitors are regular readers, and that is very heart-warming, and gives me some confidence that I must write about things that are interesting, or informative, or perhaps thought-provoking, but above all readable, otherwise people wouldn't come back.

Thank you to all my readers for getting me to this landmark and bringing a little ray of sunshine into this otherwise very grey day.

Size Is Everything ... Or Is It?

At one time, the best way to determine how long ago a contemporary film or television series was made was to look at the fashions. In the 60s the skirts got shorter, and the colours more garish; in the 70s the skirts got longer, much longer, the trouser bottoms got flared, and flared some more; the 80s saw the heyday of the punk, of safety pins, and make-up for all; the 90s ... well you get the idea.

It was while watching a programme on BBC Four last night about Juliet Bravo, the ground-breaking police drama that had a woman police inspector as its central character, that I realised that there is another device, in fact a couple of devices, that can firmly establish the vintage of television series, and particularly police dramas.

What are these devices? The police radio and the mobile phone, of course. Items that were the size of bricks, or that had to be permanently fixed in the car, rather than being a truly portable device, were there at first. Today, the devices are small and can double up as a portable computer for the truly computer literate, such as Sgt Hathaway, in the Inspector Morse spin-off, Lewis.

It just goes to prove that size isn't everything.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Why Depression Can Be So Cruel

I can feel my mood lowering with each passing day. It is getting harder to force myself out of bed each day, and I have completely lost interest in food. I haven't, as yet, reached the stage where my head and body feel disconnected, but I am sure that it can't be far away. I can't concentrate, I'm having problems sleeping, and I wonder why I bother carrying on. I find myself crying for no reason and, no matter how hard I try, I can't stop thinking about how much better things would be if I died. All the symptoms of being in a very depressed state are falling in to place, and no matter how much I don't want it to happen, I can't stop it.

This is always a distressing time of year for me, and this year it seems to be hitting me harder than ever. In a little less than two weeks time it will be the 10th anniversary of my husband's sudden death and for the first time since it happened, I will be spending the day alone.

As we get older we value those that are close to us more. How often do we hear the stories of elderly couples who have spent 50 or more years together where one of them dies, and the other dies shortly after. So often people say that the survivor died of a broken heart, and we know that medically that is not possible. But mentally that is exactly what happens. When you have lived with and loved someone for for so many years, the thought of surviving without them becomes all but impossible. The relationship between you and your family is different to that between you and your spouse. Yes, it is difficult when your parents or siblings die, but they are family who you had no choice but to exist with. When it is your spouse, it is completely different.

Your spouse is the person who you commit to, not through ties of blood, but through choice. They are not related to you, and yet you have the closest relationship that two humans can have with each other. So it is hardly surprising that having spent a lifetime together many widows and widowers just give up on life. Life has been spent with one person, and when that person dies you are filled with anger and despair.

Time is not the great healer that some think it is. You never forget, your brain will not let you. You have dreams of life together and sometimes they seem so real that you find it difficult to accept that they were just dreams when you wake up. Sometimes your brain creates images of the circumstances and scenes of your partner's death. Often you sit there thinking that they will be walking in the door any moment, and then you realise that it is an empty thought, one that will never be fulfilled.

Depression is your brain playing games with your body. Unfortunately for some, there is little that they can do to stop their brain playing these games, and when that happens the games can have terrible consequences.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Playing Spot The Actor

When I'm feeling really depressed and I can't concentrate on anything I end up watching television. If there is anything worthwhile being broadcast at the time then I will watch that, if there isn't I will watch a DVD. Some things I can watch over and over again, while many things are only worth watching once, so my DVD collection tends to consist of favourite television series, some from long ago, and films of the same sort.

This afternoon I am watching Inspector Morse; I have the choice of viewing a DVD for I have the complete series, but I am actually watching it on television. The problem is that I can't help looking at the actors and trying to remember what else I have seen them in. This afternoon's episode has a very distinguished cast of actors, and it can be quite amusing to see them playing characters that you might not necessarily associate with them because they are more familiar in other things.

Geoffrey Palmer is probably most familiar to many of us for comedies such as As Time Goes By, Butterflies, and The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Mr Palmer has endeared himself to us playing put-upon husbands, or slightly potty army officers, so to find him playing a character in whom it is difficult to find any redeeming features is somewhat disconcerting. Playing Geoffrey Palmer's wife in this episode of Morse is Barbara Leigh-Hunt. I think that she is a brilliant actress, but one of her finest performances must surely have been playing Mr Darcy's aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh in the much acclaimed BBC television adaptation that also starred Colin Firth.

But it is not always the leading actors that catch your attention. I noticed a 'heavy' in today's Morse. He set fire to the home of one of the characters, and then went to the hospital where this character's mother is dying of cancer and speaks to her menacingly about what will happen to her son if he is not careful. The actor playing the 'heavy' looked familiar, and then I realised why. This thoroughly unsavoury character with obvious contempt for the law is the same actor who plays the Assistant Chief Constable in Wycliffe. It's funny really, because although the character he plays in Wycliffe is a policeman, and therefore supposed to be one of the 'good guys', he is still an unsavoury character who undoubtedly rose to this high position through trampling over others on his way up and gets no respect from his subordinates.

So is this a case of type-casting, or is it a case of looks dictating the parts that are offered?

Doing My Bit For Posterity

I have been a student with the Open University for nearly nine years now, and have found it to be one of the things that has helped me keep going during the difficult times in the last 10 years. The OU has an excellent online library which has many databases, ejournals, and ebooks, and I have been a frequent user of the library, particularly when I was doing my post-graduate courses. It is so useful that I even use it when I have the need of a dictionary. After all, it gives me access to the full Oxford English Dictionary online. While I was trawling through the library a few days ago (I was looking for a particular ebook) I came across something called Project Gutenberg which is attempting to make as many books available electronically as it can.

Project Gutenberg is staffed by volunteers; they are constantly looking for proofreaders, and as proofreading is something that I have some experience of I decided to volunteer. Half an hour later the formalities had been completed, and I was let loose on the huge number of books that were in the stage known as Proofreading 1. They have certain books that are set aside for Beginners and after doing a few pages of these books, you progress onto books for Newcomers. You are limited to the number of pages that you can do in each of these sections so that there are always pages available for new volunteers.

The majority of books are in English, but there are also books in French, German, Portuguese, and even Gaelic, waiting to be proofread. It's all done online, and in Proofreading 1, all you are doing is ensuring that the pages that have been through the OCR match up to photocopies of the original pages. Proofreading 1, just asks you to do a character check, and some very simple formatting (inserting blank lines between paragraphs). The books are all old, and cover a multitude of subjects.

So why do I do it? Well, I think that reading is something that we should all do, and education is something that we should all benefit from. By doing my little bit for this project I am helping to ensure that books that are not easily accessible to the ordinary student can be there electronically for the future. Constant use of the original books will cause damage over the years, and it is difficult to find relevant material without going through the entire book. If a book is available electronically, it means that many people can access it at the same time, remotely, and carry out searches easily.

How much does it cost me? A couple of hours a day, and the electricity to power the computer, which would probably be running anyway. But the rewards are huge, because even though I know that there are hundreds of thousands of pages waiting to be proofread and formatted at the moment, each one that I do helps towards preserving another book for posterity, and allowing it to be available for generations to come.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Goodbye Beijing, Roll On London 2012

The last gold medal has been awarded after 16 days of competition and the Closing Ceremony is now taking place. For Team GB this has been a spectacular games for they have won more medals than anyone expected, and have finished fourth on the medal table. Shortly the Olympic flag will be passed to Boris Johnson and will reside in London for the next four years.

Now we have to wonder what sort of games we are going to see in London 2012. Personally, I would like to see something along the lines of the Commonwealth Games, known by all who partake as the Friendly Games, for the nations taking part have a common bond. Lavish and spectacular as the Opening and Closing Ceremonies have been in Beijing, I would like to see something a little simpler and that places more emphasis on the athletes who are taking part. I don't care if our sporting facilities don't look as spectacular as those in Beijing, as long as they are fit for purpose and ready in time. I don't want them to cost more than any others in the past, and we already know that they won't, because we cannot afford it and what we really need is infrastructure that can be realistically used in the future.

For me, however, the most important thing is that tickets for all the events are realistically priced so that ordinary members of the public in this country can afford to attend the greatest sporting event to take place here during their lifetime, if they so desire. And if tickets are realistically priced, then there need be no empty seats as there have been at numerous events and venues in Beijing.

And when the Closing Ceremony of the London Games takes place, I hope that everyone can say that we knew how to put on a good Olympics.

In The Middle Of The Night

It's a ridiculous time to be writing a post for my blog, but I'm having one of those bad nights. I managed to get to sleep relatively easily, but then woke up a couple of hours later and I can't get back to sleep again.

I watched the Men's Olympic Marathon, which was run in horrendously hot conditions, and which was run at a ridiculously fast pace for the first half of the race. Some runners had to drop out, and comments were made by Steve Cram and Brendan Foster about some of the runners becoming so dehydrated that they were no longer sweating in what was becoming an increasingly hot day.

I don't think that there will be the same problems at London 2012. It is exceedingly unlikely that the temperatures will rise to the level that they have been in Beijing over the last couple of weeks, not do I think it likely, even allowing for the terrible summer that we have had this year, that any rain that there is will be quite so torrential as that which has been seen on a couple occasions in Beijing. The sailors can be pretty sure that a lack of wind is unlikely to cause races to be cancelled; in fact the reverse is more likely, races being cancelled because of too much wind.

The British climate may not be the best in the world, but it is ours, and if we didn't have it what would we all talk about? It is probably the best climate that there is for the majority of sports; not too hot, not too cool, not too wet, and not too dry. Let's hope that everything, including the weather, comes together nicely and allows Britain to put on an Olympics of which we can be proud, and that the participants will talk about for years to come.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

It's Amazing How Things Can Change

My life has been looking a little brighter over the last couple of weeks. I think it has been a combination of factors that have brought this about (a change in medication, psychotherapy helping me to discover myself, and writing this blog and the friends that I have made through it), but a simple telephone call has changed all that.

Yesterday evening I received a phone call from one of my friends in Corfu; she was enquiring when I would be arriving out there for my holiday as she knew I must be due any time in the next week or so. I normally celebrate my birthday in Corfu, and I have had a couple of really memorable birthday dinners there, for my 40th and 50th birthdays, but my birthday is also a few days before the anniversary of my husband's death, and for a number of reasons I won't be going to Corfu as usual.

I had been trying very hard not to think of the anniversaries that there are in the next couple of weeks but that has now been thwarted. As a result of these things being brought to the forefront, my mood has changed dramatically, and so have my emotions. I can feel myself falling into the hole that I had been painstakingly climbing out of and suddenly there seems to be nothing to make my life worthwhile.

Depression is a terrible thing for anyone to suffer from, but when you live on your own, with nobody to talk to, it can be frightening. I know that things will get better, but struggling through one day at a time is the only way that I can manage at the moment. They say that to lose your memories of things that have happened can be devastating, but sometimes I wish that I really could lose the memories that cause me so much pain.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Does Anybody Else Drill Down The Data On Their Counters?

Some days I could write lots of posts, but I restrain myself and stick to what I think somebody might like to read, and some days I have real problems thinking of anything to say; today is one of those days. I've been taking a break from working on the TMA for my OU course and I started to look at the kind of information that I can determine from the counters that I have on my site. As a result I found that there is somebody in the US who also uses the name Madsadgirl. She does not seem to be writing a blog but writes to a chat room or forum under this name, and her big gripe is about the plastic surgery that she had on her hindquarters, putting it politely. I'm sure that she had her reasons for undergoing this surgery, but it is not something that I would ever consider, and I hope that no-one will think that I am this other person.

I regularly look to see how people have arrived at my blog. Have they come via a reference to me in somebody else's writings, or is it the result of a web search? It is certain that I have a small group of regular readers, because that is one of the things that the counters tell me. As a result of doing this research I found that I had a reader in the UK who is also attempting to write a blog but of whose existence I was not aware. Random Musings from a Wannabe is the name of the blog and it is written by a law graduate who is about to start work as a lecturer at a UK university. The reason that I did not know she was a regular reader was because she had never commented on any of my posts.

Now you are probably asking yourself why is she writing about this? The answer is quite simple. The blogger in question wanted to study medicine, but ended up doing law instead, and because medicine was what she had really wanted to do, many of the things that she reads regularly are blogs from various members of the medical community. So I began to wonder why she reads my blog? The best way to find out is to see what the person concerned is writing about themself. It seems that the thing that we have in common, and what probably drew her to my blog in the first place, may be depression. Depression and a lack of self-confidence.

She hasn't written anything for a couple of weeks, and there is no indication of how many may have read her blog, because when I was reading it there were no comments to any of her posts. That has changed now. I've written a comment because I know how much getting that first real indication that somebody has actually read what you have written can mean to you. The blog has very few posts at the moment and I hope that the blogger isn't going to give up because I think that a blog from a law lecturer could be both informative and amusing at times, after all, don't they say that the law is an ass.

We all write our blogs for different reasons, but I am sure that we all hope that we won't be the only people to read them. Even a simple hello as a comment shows that we are not alone. It has made a big difference to me and I know that one of the reasons that I am feeling better than I have for years is writing this blog and knowing that it is not falling on stony ground.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

What A Shambles!

It was like sports day at the local primary school. All that the runners had to do was a quarter of a lap each, and pass a baton between runners as they did it. But it proved far too difficult for an incredible number of countries.

What am I talking about? The Men's and Women's 4x100m relays, of course. Today was semifinals day, and some teams that should have been contesting medals in the finals will not be there due to gross incompetence.

In the Men's races a total of four teams from the two races dropped the baton, including the US team, and two teams were disqualified for passing the baton out of the box. Unfortunately one of these teams was the GB team who were the defending Olympic champions. Truth to tell they had no chance of repeating that feat if the Jamaicans manage to pass the baton safely in the final, but it would have been nice to be there to try for a silver or bronze medal.

The Women's semifinals weren't quite so bad. Two teams dropped the baton, France and Trinidad and Tobago. Three teams were disqualified, and one of those was again the team from the US. Can you believe it? No US teams in the 4x100m finals. But one has to say that Jamaica have to be favourites for the Women's gold medal and again if they manage to pass the baton safely in the final, the gold will be theirs. The one ray of sunshine for Team GB is that our Women's team qualified easily, and could well be there in the hunt for silver and bronze come the final.

If someone told you what had happened, and there was no video footage to prove it, you wouldn't believe it possible. But there is, so you can see it for yourselves. It was a real shambles!

A British Bank Holiday

I see that the report here says that we British prefer to spend our bank holidays in front of the box rather than doing anything else. I'm not surprised that has turned out to be the result of a survey of 2000 people just before we have our Late Summer Bank Holiday weekend. If ever there was a misnamed holiday, this must be it. How can it be late summer? We haven't had early summer in this country yet, so to think that it is late summer is very demoralising.

The survey asked if people would be interested in community events at this bank holiday weekend; unsurprisingly 60% said no. Now whether this was due to a lack of community spirit, or because British bank holidays are synonymous with wet weather isn't known. Those conducting the survey also seemed to be surprised that very few of those questioned were considering visiting friends and relatives, or a site of interest. Why were they surprised? Bank holiday traffic jams are so well known that nobody drives anywhere if they don't have to.

For many parents this is the last chance that they have to get things sorted out before their children start a new year at school. For those who chicks are about to leave the nest and go off to university, it is a time of making lists and gathering together the essential items for life as an undergraduate. And this year we have the climax of the Olympic Games over this weekend which will mean that there will probably be enough sport on television to satisfy almost any armchair athlete.

Many of those asked thought that we should have another bank holiday during the year, but there were differences over when it should be. 41% thought it should be April 23rd to celebrate St George's Day, but this would only be popular with English respondents, and we have enough bank holidays around that period anyway, with two days at Easter, and a holiday at the start and another at the end of May. An alternative which gained the support of 38% in the survey was a holiday in November for Remembrance Day.

I would also favour a holiday somewhere between the one in August and Christmas, however I would choose October 21st, Trafalgar Day, as the date. I know that some would suggest that this shows insensitivity towards the French, but why should we worry about that; nobody cares about insensitivity to the British.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Had You Noticed .....

.... that today's date could be written 2008 2008?

Feeling ......... ?

I'm having a bit of a weird day today. I'm not feeling brilliant, but I can't really put my finger on what is wrong with me. I'm having one of those periods where my body is telling me that I need to get some sleep (that's mainly as a result of me watching the Olympics at ridiculous hours of the night) so last night I had an early night. I went to sleep fairly quickly, and I've spent a lot of time since then sleeping, which probably means that I won't sleep tonight.

But I also keep coming over dizzy, even when I am sitting down, so that is why I say I am feeling strange. It's not like how I feel when I have labyrinthitis, so I am pretty sure it's not that, but trying to actually describe how I am feeling is rather difficult.

Never mind, I am sure that I will have days when I feel a lot worse, and at least I have caught up on some of my missed sleep. Watching the Olympics and seeing how well our boys and girls are doing has been excellent therapy for a depressive armchair athlete (actually I do exercise, but my days of doing really energetic things are long passed).

They say that exercise is good for helping to lift you out of depression; when someone else is doing the exercise and it is still having a beneficial effect on how you feel, so much the better.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Olympics Will Be The Death Of Me

I've said before that I love the Olympics, but this year I seem to be watching more sports than I ever have before. It is, in part, because Team GB are doing so well having already won one gold medal this morning at the sailing, and they are assured at least one gold and two silver, although it could be two golds, and one silver, in the velodrome. I got addicted to cycling when the British team dominated at the World Championships in Manchester earlier this year, and it seems that a number of British VIPs have also arrived in the velodrome to see how the team are doing and to cheer them on. It is hardly surprising that HRH the Princess Royal is there because she is a member of the IOC and is a keen supporter of British sport, but I have also seen Tony Blair, and David Hemery, our 400m hurdles gold medallist from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

As I write this post, the Men's Madison, the most incomprehensible of all the cycling events for outsiders, is taking place. The race is very long, and involves two team members from each of the participating countries racing a sort of relay race, while also racing sprints after a set number of laps, and at the same time trying to make up laps on the other competitors. I told you it was complicated, and for me it is impossible to follow.

So why is the Olympics going to be the death of me? Well I seem to find myself being constantly drawn to the television to see how we are doing, and I really am supposed to be completing my OU assignment. But there are only a few more days of competition, and then things will return to normal and I can get things done in a more timely manner. It's just as well the Olympics are once every four years!

Monday, 18 August 2008

I'm Worried About My Health, And That Of The NHS

Speaking as a patient, I am very worried about the NHS and its future. When I started to read blogs a few months ago, many of those that I started to read regularly were written by doctors and medical students. You may wonder why I was drawn to these blogs in particular, and I suppose the answer would be that many of those written by the doctors are very thought provoking and often allow you an insight into how the NHS works, while those of the medical students are often full of humour, something that we particularly associate with them as a group.

There is another reason why I read these blogs; I'm worried about my health. I don't expect to get a diagnosis from these blogs, I go to see my GP for that, but what I can get is opinion about what is happening in the NHS from one of the groups that has a vested interest in it. As a patient, I am a member of the other group that has a vested interest in the NHS, and it is for that reason that I believe it is every patient's duty to take note of what this government is trying to impose upon us.

The British tax-payer is entitled to get value for money from the things that their taxes are used to fund, they also have the right for politicians to be accountable to the public, after all they are employed by us to do a job, and at the moment they are not doing it very well. If I had performed at work in the way that they have, I would undoubtedly have been given a series of warnings, first verbal, and then in writing; I may even have found my employment terminated by now. Unfortunately, it is not quite so easy to get rid of a government. Gordon Brown has been served a number of warnings from the British public already. The local elections a few months ago sent the message loud and clear, and it has been re-echoed at the by-elections that have been held subsequently. But Mr Brown is determined to go from office having caused as much damage as possible, so that whoever follows has a very hard time putting things right. While he was Chancellor of the Exchequer he was constantly telling us what a good job he was doing with the economy. He was very careful to avoid mentioning that it was the Conservatives who put the economy into a strong position. Since he has become Prime Minister, it has become obvious that he certainly did not do a good job with our economy; we have learnt that that the poor position that we find ourselves in today is in part a result of the way in which Gordon Brown did things at the Treasury, and who he listened to.

Patient participation is not something that should just be talked about; it is something that we should all try to do to ensure that there is an NHS there for us when we are most likely to need it, when we are old and more likely to suffer ill health. This government has a very strong record in tinkering in things that should not be tinkered with, and the results are always bad.

Yes, they may have managed to reduce waiting lists by putting in more money. But huge sums of money have been, and are still being. ploughed into computer systems, that are so complex that they are proving impossible to implement or operate effectively and efficiently. There are also serious concerns about the security of information stored on such computer systems, and yet the government pushes on with their introduction.

Having negotiated a new contract with the GPs in this country, to the satisfaction of both the government and the doctors, the government has now decided that it got things wrong. But instead of biting the bullet and admitting their mistake, the decision seems to have been taken to get back at the GPs by doing everything possible to destroy the wonderful relationship that exists between GPs and their patients. And how are they doing this? By forcing the introduction of polyclinics and health centres, by putting the running of these out to tender, and in some areas, refusing local GPs the right to tender for these contracts. Some GP surgeries are going to be forced to close when these new centres are opened. People will have to travel further to see a doctor, and it almost certainly won't be the same doctor each time that they have to see someone. And why are we being forced down this route? Because the government have decided that they want GPs to open for longer hours to suit a few people who find current practice hours unsuitable. The problem is that this group of people probably need to see a doctor very rarely, so we have the ridiculous idea of rules being set to benefit a very small minority at the expense of the vast majority.

The government is definitely trying to privatise significant parts of the NHS, and this is something that we should not allow. I have said before that the NHS is not a business, and should not be run as such. It is a public service that is there to serve the whole population, no matter their ability to pay for treatment. Primary care should be firmly rooted in the community, and local GP surgeries do exactly that. It takes me a couple of minutes to walk to my local surgery, I am sure that should a polyclinic be introduced into my area of London, then I would have to travel significantly further.

I am asking patients to do their duty. If you want the NHS to continue as a service that serves you and not some far off shareholders, then you should participate in the NHS. Go to your local surgery and see if there are ways that you can join in with patient participation, and let us show the government that they cannot ride roughshod over us.

I Didn't Know That

I have just read this item about a small scale study carried out in the USA which shows that depression can impair your driving ability. I know that there have been occasions in the past where I have driven to work, but not been able to remember any of the journey, but I put that down to travelling the same route every day, at the same time. I knew what the driving conditions were likely to be like, so if it was frosty, or foggy, or raining, I always made sure that I concentrated on what I was doing.

The study said that it had been impossible to determine whether it was depression itself, or high doses of anti-depressants that led to the impairment, and that further studies would be needed to determine what was having the effect. Anyone who takes anti-depressants will be aware that the literature that accompanies them includes the information that the medication may cause drowsiness and that if you are affected you should not drive or operate machinery. That is also the partly the reason that some anti-depressants are taken in the morning and others at night.

The item went on to quote the DVLA about people with certain conditions having to inform them that they had these conditions, and that depression was one of them. I have always been aware that you had to inform the DVLA if you suffered from Type-1 diabetes, or if you had suffered a heart attack, and that your insurance was invalid if you tried to drive whilst you had an arm or leg in plaster. But I was not aware that it was necessary to inform them if you suffered from depression, nor has a doctor ever spoken to me about it.

I didn't know that; did you?

Have You Noticed...... all the television cameramen at the Olympics are called Bob?

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Sunday at the Olympics

We still have many hours of competition left today, but Team GB have already won three gold medals, two for sailing, and one for rowing, and there are going to be more to follow. There could be more medals at the rowing, we are guaranteed at least two medals in the cycling, one gold and one silver, and our cyclists are performing as well as they did in Manchester earlier in the year, so there is a likelihood of more medals to come.

The medals won so far have moved GB to third in the medal table, and though it is not likely that they will be there at the end of the Olympics, it is obvious that our athletes are trying to do the best that they possibly can.

It is unfortunate that Paula Radcliffe had such a terrible time before the Olympics, and some may question her decision to run at all if they were watching her in the early hours of this morning. Paula may not have won a medal, she may have finished in 23rd position and you may not consider that to be very good, but Paula was on crutches a matter of weeks ago, and the reason she decided that she had to run was to lay the ghost of Athens. This time Paula finished the race, bitterly disappointed with her performance, but she has told us that she plans to be there for London 2012. One thing that she knows already is that she will be supported every step of the way on the streets of London, and if our cheers could do the running for her, she would be guaranteed that Olympic medal that she so dearly craves.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Team GB Go From Strength to Strength

It is not going to be quite such a Super Saturday as was predicted because as has happened so often at this games, the wind has failed again at the Olympic Sailing and Ben Ainslie and the three Blondes in a Boat will have to wait for tomorrow to find out what colour their medals are going to be.

Our medal haul from the rowing today was one gold medal and two bronze, and hearty congratulations should go to all our medal winners, but also to our other finalists who were not lucky enough to get a medal. To qualify for an Olympic final is a magnificent feat in its own right.

We are already assured another gold medal in the cycling, and at least two silver medals (although one of these may be gold), so our track cyclists are performing well and reproducing the form that they showed at the World Championships in Manchester earlier this year.

At some Olympic Games we wonder whether we will win any medals; in fact we wonder whether we will get anyone into a final. Beijing is proving to be a successful games for Team GB; we are eighth in the medal table as I write this post, and we are likely to climb higher over the next few days.

Team GB are doing this country proud. They should get a hero's welcome when they come home, and we should remember that so many of them have gone to Beijing to get experience of what it is like to compete at a major games, and successes achieved can help to provide a strong core to build on for London 2012.

Was It Worth It?

My answer to this question has to be a resounding yes.

The action alternated between the Bird's Nest Stadium and the Water Cube. I watched history being made by Michael Phelps, when he won his seventh gold medal of these games, equalling the seven golds at one games by Mark Spitz, and the joy of it is, I am old enough to have watched Spitz create the record that we thought would never be matched. The race was so close that it was literally won by Phelps continuing to race until he touched the wall. A race that he came so close to losing, but because he followed the instruction that all competitive swimmers are taught from the start of their training, allowed him to beat the Serbian swimmer who was leading but who chose to coast to the wall rather than swim an extra stroke.

Shortly afterwards, Becky Adlington swam in the Women's 800m freestyle and showed the rest of the competitors what a truly superb competitor that she is. She took the lead shortly after the first turn, and gradually pulled away from the rest of the field. Swimming at her own pace she continued to churn through the water, and it was not long before it was obvious that the oldest Women's Swimming World Record was going to be beaten. The record was set when Becky was six months old, and the 19-year old beat it by more than two seconds, and it is obvious that she could have swum faster if she had been pushed. Becky went to these games for experience, she was not expected to win medals this time, that would come in London. Instead she became the first British swimmer to win two gold medals at one Olympic Games since the London Games of 1908.

I watched a little bit of the action from the Bird's Nest Stadium, but then I dozed off, and have just woken up, ready for the action that is to come. The medal race for the Finn Class has been delayed because the wind is insufficient again, so Ben Ainslie has to wait a little longer to see whether he is going to win a gold or a silver medal. But the rowing will be starting soon, and that does not rely on wind-power; it is the oarsmen and women who will provide the power necessary.

Could this truly be Team GB's Golden Saturday? I really hope so.

I'm Getting Excited

I'm supposed to be asleep in preparation for my alarm going off at the ridiculous hour of 1.45am. Why am I intending to be awake at this time? Well, I need to get myself awake to switch the television on to watch what promises to be a very exciting day at the Olympics. We are guaranteed at least two silver medals in the sailing, we have a very good chance of a gold medal in the swimming at the Water Cube, our cyclists look likely to to add to the gold medal that they won in the velodrome yesterday, and we have crews in five of the finals at the rowing regatta. All of this and I haven't even mentioned what is happening in the Bird's Nest Stadium.

With luck it will be a very good day for all our athletes at the Olympics tomorrow, no matter what their sport, and the battle for medals looks set to continue on Sunday, with more chances in the cycling, and five more crews in the finals of the rowing. But our biggest wish for success should go to Paula Radcliffe as she takes on the Marathon and races for that elusive Olympic Medal. Paula has been a magnificent representative for this country for many years, but she always seemed to be the bridesmaid, never the bride. She ran her heart out at all manner of competitions and major games, but never had the speed to allow her to win a medal.

This all changed for Paula at the Manchester Commonwealth Games; at long last she managed to win a major title, and she won it in style. Suddenly she had found that extra bit of determination, and an unbelievable ability to set a punishing speed that others could not follow. She became a World Champion. She ran a marathon and set the fastest time ever run by a woman, and then she repeated it at more major city marathons. Everything was set fair for the Athens Olympics, but it was not to be. Paula was fit, but feeling unwell, and she had to retire from the race, heartbroken. After the disappointment in Athens she then went on to break her own fastest time for a marathon; she was determined to keep going and to try to be fit and ready for Beijing. She did take a little bit of time away from the running though; time enough to have a daughter, and yes she got back to work with the training in order to prepare herself for the Olympics.

But fate was ready to deal Paula another cruel blow. When she should have been working to get herself in perfect condition for the race that could give her the thing that she wanted m ost, an Olympic medal, and preferably a gold one, she was found to have a stress fracture of the femurd. We have probably never had an athlete who has represented our counhtry for so long at the highest level, who has things happen to her that were beyond her control, at the times when she was most likely to achieve her dreams. Paula didn't give up; she has prepared herself as best she could, the fracture has healed, she seems to be fit and is going to run on Sunday in the Olympic Marathon. If they were to give Olympic gold medals for sheer determination, Paula would surely be worthy of one, but I am quite sure that she would rather win won for herself by running the race and showing the world what a truly great athlete she is.

So let Sunday be Paula's day, let us all cross our fingers, and even though the race is due to start in the early hours of Sunday morning, we should be there willing her on so that she can win the gold medal she so richly deserves.

That is why I am getting excited. I know that I need some sleep, but that can wait; I know that I could watch the repeats of the events at some later hour, but that would not be as exciting. I suffer from depression, but the Olympics give me a thrill, and to see the events as they happen, be they good or bad, will give me more enjoyment than getting a few hours sleep. After all, there are only 11 more days of the Olympics, then I will have to wait for another four years to get this excited again, and four years is plenty of time to catch up on my missed sleep.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Fridays Are Hard; It's Psychotherapy Day

I have mentioned several times in this blog that a significant proportion of the population of this country don't know how to deal with meeting someone with depression. In recent years there has been a lot of emphasis on the fact that depression is a form of mental illness, and it is mental illness that people are scared of.

My first encounter with depression was more than 25 years ago, when I suddenly started to suffer periods of unstoppable crying, night after night of being unable to sleep, a total loss of appetite, and a loss of interest in my work, which was totally out of character for me. I was serving in the RAF at that time, so eventually I paid a visit to the Station Medical Centre (SMC) and saw the Senior Medical Officer (SMO). The SMC acts as a GPs surgery for service personnel on the unit, and the SMO is the equivalent of the senior partner in the practice. I was prescribed anti-depressants and the SMO requested my boss move me to a less stressful job for a few months so that I could regain my equilibrium and pleasure in my work. It all worked, less than four months later I was back to my old self and the depression was something that I forgot all about.

Almost 10 years ago, my husband died very suddenly a few days into our holiday abroad. Fortunately, my parents were on holiday with us, and we were staying in a hotel where we had stayed many times before, so the staff knew us very well. We also had a number of friends who live on the island, and hotel manager phoned them to let them know what had happened.

The next few weeks passed in a bit of a haze for me. Some things I can remember as though it was yesterday, while there are other things that I cannot remember at all. About two months after my husband died, some of my colleagues began to get very worried about me. I would walk about as if in a trance, I would fall asleep at my desk, and they noticed that I was rapidly losing weight. They were ready to tell me to go to see my GP when something happened that scared me so much that I made an appointment myself.

I was diagnosed as suffering from depression caused by a grief reaction; something that was not unexpected considering what had happened. Anti-depressants were prescribed, at a very low level to start with but being increased over a period of a couple of weeks. I had to see my GP every week so that he could assess how I was doing. After a couple of months it was decided to change the anti-depressant as the first one did not seem to be having much of an effect. This change seemed to make a big difference and I started to look less haggard, began eating a little better, and being able to sleep at night rather than at work.

About a year later my last remaining great-aunt died, and her death was followed a few days later by that of her brother, my great-uncle. I hadn't been sure whether I would be able to cope with one funeral, but a double funeral was out of the question and my parents decided that it was best if I did not attend. At about this time, my GP decided to refer me to see a psychiatrist at the local Mental Health Trust.

This was the first time that I started to be really afraid about what was happening to me; after all, psychiatrists look after mad people, don't they? To this day, I really don't remember too much about this meeting with the psychiatrist, although I did find it disconcerting that the door to the building had an intercom entry system, and that I had to sign myself in and out of the building. The fact that it was a dark and dingy Victorian building, that in no way looked inviting, didn't help to alleviate my distress at the situation either. However, the psychiatrist turned out to be a very nice man, and although I can't really remember much of what I said in answer to his questions, he did tell me that he thought that I could benefit from counselling from a CPN.

A week or so later, I received a letter giving me a date for my first counselling session. I attended at the time requested and found myself being asked to fill in a questionnaire that seemed never ending. I can't remember how many questions there were, but it seemed that many of the questions seemed to occur several times, each time expressed in slightly different words. I might have been depressed, but I wasn't stupid. Anyway, after I filled in the questionnaire, the CPN asked me some questions and then asked me to start talking about myself and my life with my husband. It was difficult, but I tried. Further appointments were made for me to see her weekly, and I attended another three or four sessions, but a very close friend and colleague at work saw the effect that these sessions were having on me and after careful questioning decided that I needed to see my GP. An urgent appointment was made and I saw him less than an hour later; the result was that he decided that the counselling should stop because it was obvious that it was having a very detrimental effect on me and my depression was becoming worse. Although I saw the psychiatrist several times over the following years and always benefited from seeing him, counselling was not suggested again.

When I moved to London I registered at a new practice and saw the senior partner. After a slightly dodgy start, caused by him making a comment without realising the effect that it was going to have on me, we got along well. He was concerned that I had been suffering from depression for so long without any real sign that I was getting better. I seemed to have sunk into a depression after my father died that I just couldn't climb out of, so towards the end of last year he decided to refer me to our local MHT for psychotherapy. He told me that the service was severely stretched and that it would probably be some considerable time before I got an appointment for assessment to see whether they could offer me anything, and that it was likely to be a year or more before I started to receive any treatment.

Although so much of the population suffers from mental health problems and so many could benefit from the so called 'talking treatments' they are incredibly difficult to get from the NHS. There are many psychotherapists in private practice, but how do you choose one, how do you know what type of psychotherapy is right for you, and how much will it all cost? For most of us, this just isn't an option that we can afford to even look at, and I knew that it was impossible for me, so I resigned myself for a long wait for treatment on the NHS. Perhaps the most worrying thing about all this is that I live in London, and London is one of the few places in the country that you stand a reasonable chance of getting the psychotherapy without having been admitted to a psychiatric hospital first.

About 10 days after my GP referred me I received a letter from the hospital inviting me to make an appointment for assessment for suitability for treatment. So six weeks after my GP set the ball rolling I went for assessment, and after about an hour and a half talking with one of the senior psychologists he decided that another assessment appointment would be worthwhile and that it was likely that I would be offered psychotherapy. The next appointment was a month later, and at the end of the process it was decided that individual psychodynamic psychotherapy was the treatment that I was most likely to benefit from.

There are many different types of psychotherapy, some individual and some conducted in groups. Many people are offered short periods of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), but neither this nor group psychodynamic therapy were considered suitable for me and my problems. Having been told that individual psychodynamic psychotherapy was what was being offered to me, the senior psychologist who conducted my assessments gave me details of what the therapy would entail and that I would probably have a long wait before a psychotherapist would be available to add me to their list of patients. One of the benefits that I had, was because I am unable to work at the moment, when a vacancy did arise, it would be possible to accept the time offered.

Having steeled myself for months of waiting, I was somewhat surprised, and my GP was absolutely stunned, that I was offered an appointment with a psychotherapist to discuss the possibility of starting therapy, just two and a half months later. I accepted the appointment, went to the hospital on the appointed day, and met the doctor who was to be my psychotherapist if that particular day and time were acceptable to me. As Friday at 10 o'clock was fine, without further ado the therapy started. It rather caught me on the hop, because I really wasn't expecting it to be so soon, and certainly not that day.

For those who don't know what psychodynamic psychotherapy is about, I will give this particular patient's view of what happens. Psychotherapists may be psychologists, some are doctors (in fact psychotherapy is now a compulsory element of the specialist training for psychiatrists), and some may be social workers who have undergone additional training in psychotherapy; mine is a doctor. My appointments are at the same time, on the same day of the week, and take place in the same room each time. Each session lasts between 50 and 60 minutes; the time varies slightly so that a convenient stopping point can be found. The relationship between the therapist and patient is somewhat strange, in that the patient is expected to reveal all about themself, while the therapist reveals nothing of themself. This may make the therapist seem remote for some people, but accepting that this is what the relationship should be is the first step to a good therapeutic relationship. For many, psychodynamic psychotherapy offered by the NHS is time-limited from the start; this means that it is decided that you will have a certain number of sessions, often 20 or 30, and that the therapist will move the process along so that certain stages in the process occur at specific times. I am lucky because I was offered psychodynamic psychotherapy that was not limited by time; in fact I was told from the start that I would probably be attending for more than a year.

At first the thought of talking about oneself for 50 minutes can be very daunting, and I found it particularly so as I had never been someone who let much out about themself to other people. Part of this was shyness on my part, and part a reluctance to talk about my work (which is the subject where many social conversations start) because I was not allowed to. This type of psychotherapy is not a two-way conversation; the therapist will often only speak if the silence at the start of the session is prolonged (and even after attending for three and a half months now, I can rarely start talking without prompting) or to suggest the possible reason for feeling the way that you do about some particular thing.

To start with the sessions are all about you, and your feelings; they are the way the therapist gets a feel for who you are, what your problems are, and hopefully what has caused these problems. They can be very traumatic, and can delve far into your past. You find out things about yourself that you never realised, and you start to understand why some things that have happened to you, occurred. Many things that occur in childhood or early adolescent years can be what sets the seed for mental illness in later life.

Some weeks ago, I had a particularly traumatic session. I found out something that had never occurred to me before. It has already helped me to understand why I am the way I am and it is helping me to talk about more things that have happened in my life, and how they have affected me, at subsequent sessions. One thing that you should always do is go with a good supply of tissues, for it is certain that the sessions will be emotional. I have actually managed one session so far where I have not cried, but it gets easier to talk each week as I bring out things that I have forgotten about or never realised before. To show how far I have progressed, I have been able to write this post without becoming emotional; just a few weeks that would have been impossible.

I hope this helps you understand why Fridays are hard for me, and that it gives you a little insight into something that you may have heard about but always wondered what it involved. Feel free to ask questions if you want, but be aware that I will obviously be quite careful how I reply.

A Ridiculous Time to be Blogging

This is a ridiculous time in the morning to be writing something on my blog, but after a long nap yesterday afternoon, and an early night (very early really) where I fell asleep almost immediately, I have woken up just in time for the start of today's Olympics on the television. This is the time when the Olympics programme starts to get really busy because not only do we still have a few more days of exciting swimming to watch, but the athletics is about to begin. One of our real medal hopes, Kelly Sotherton is shortly to start her bid for gold in the Heptathlon; she is due to start her bid in Heat 5 of the Hurdles. Depending on how long this post is, she may actually have begun before I can publish it.

The programme started by showing the inside of the Bird's Nest Stadium, and like so many other occasions during these games there were many empty seats. We then went to the studio that the BBC are using for linking the whole of their coverage of the games, which has a wonderful view of the stadium as a backdrop, and it was possible to see why there were so many empty seats. There were literally hundreds of people making their way across the somewhat strangely named Olympic Green, towards the stadium entrances. It seems that before long the 91,000-seater stadium will indeed be full.

Filling stadia should really not be a problem for the Chinese for they are, after all, the most populous nation on Earth, but it has been remarked at how often there have been empty seats at these games, and this is something that the organisers of London 2012 must ensure does not happen. There is a very fine balancing act to be managed; prices should be high enough to ensure recouping at least a major proportion of the costs of running the games, while at the same time ensuring that the cost of seats at the various sporting venues does not mean that they are priced beyond the reach of the interested population in Britain.

Since the start of the programme, a little over half an hour ago, the number of empty seats has reduced. There are now significantly fewer patches of empty red seats and more spectators can be seen finding their way through the stadium. And as the heats of the Heptathlon hurdles progress, Kelly Sotherton has just run a life-time best for the hurdles and is lying in fourth place after the first event. Producing your best time ever shows that you are committed to performing well, and Kelly is obviously keen to improve on the bronze medal she won at the Athens Olympics and has shown this from the start. We now have to hope that she continues in this vein and produces a performance of which she can be truly proud and without the heartbreak that getting an injury would bring. After all, if Kelly is in with a chance when the 800m, the last event, is run tomorrow, there can be no doubt that she will do all she can to ensure that a medal, hopefully the gold, is her reward.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

I've Felt Strange Today

I haven't been feeling brilliant today. I didn't feel wonderful when I woke this morning and it took a a great deal of effort to force myself out of bed. Eventually I ran a bath, and then enjoyed a good long soak; one of life's little luxuries as far as I am concerned, which can be a remedy to many of life's problems. But today, it made no difference.

I pottered around doing things this morning, not really achieving very much. Breakfast wasn't eaten until nearly 11am because I just never got round to it. By 1pm I felt so strange that I thought that the best thing that I could do was to go and lie on the bed for half an hour; this often helps me get going again. But I didn't lie there for half an hour. As soon as my head hit the pillow I fell asleep and remained so until 4pm, when I was woken but a very large rumble of thunder. I sat up, and immediately laid down again. For the first time in about four or five years I had a migraine.

I used to suffer migraines frequently, but as I grew older they became less frequent, but always very debilitating. To have one again after so long was a bit of a surprise. I took some paracetamol, not always guaranteed to work but all that I had, and lay down again for half an hour. When I opened my eyes again, I sat up gingerly to find that the migraine had gone. No throbbing head, no feeling of nausea, no spots before the eyes; it really had gone.

I have to assume that the reason that I was feeling so strange earlier was that I was suffering the precursor of the migraine. What triggered it is a mystery because I had not eaten anything different yesterday to what I have been eating for a number of days. My best guess is that the weather and atmospheric conditions of the previous 24 hours may have been the reason. But it doesn't matter, because the pain has gone and I am feeling much better. Not exactly raring to go and run a marathon, but not needing to curl up in a ball and die either.

It makes a change to be feeling bad and it not be depression that has caused it.

Back to the Days of Agincourt and Crecy

Yes, I have been watching the Olympics again; this morning it was one of the British women archers against a competitor from Japan. Unfortunately, our archer had trouble finding the gold area of the target with her early arrows, so even though she managed better with her final six arrows, the archer from Japan built up an early lead that was to prove unassailable.

In the middle ages, the longbow was the weapon of choice for foot soldiers serving in battles fought by English and Scottish kings. In those days there was no standing army, so many British monarchs from that time made archery practice compulsory for all males between the ages of 16 and 60 after church on Sundays. These men were all expected to have their own longbow equivalent in length to their height. The bows were made of yew, elm or ash, and the British archers were an extremely dangerous force to encounter.

At that time, the ranges, known as butts, were generally 200 yards in length and there would be a level area set aside for the purpose in every settlement of any size. The butts for modern archery competitions are 80 yards in length. The power of the longbow was such that the arrows could regularly travel 400 yards, a distance far greater than that possible with the crossbows that were generally used by the archers of Europe. The rate of fire from a longbow was also significantly greater than that possible with the crossbow because of the manner of priming the weapon to fire the arrow.

During the reign of Henry VIII, the use of the longbow for war was replaced by the introduction of the musket. However, the longbow did not disappear completely, for even at this time archery clubs, where archery was a sport, were being formed in England. Many of the rich enjoyed pursuing archery for sporting purposes, and Henry even passed a law that ensured that if someone was accidentally killed by an arrow during these sporting affairs, the perpetrator would not be accused of murder.

Maybe we could win some medals for archery in the Olympics if we were to reintroduce the compulsory Sunday archery training that took place in this country in medieval times.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

A Slow Blogging Day

Today has been a slow blogging day. I haven't really found anything worth writing about, and I have been out doing some research too, so my time has been a bit limited. Typical really, when I didn't have Internet access I could always find something to say, and now I'm back online the muse has vanished.

It's been a slow day for many of the bloggers that I read regularly too. So I sat here thinking about this phenomena and I came to the conclusion that it may be a new syndrome. SAD is now accepted as being something real, and the short days of winter are recognized as causing a mild form of depression in a considerable number of people. Maybe we are all suffering from LOS, something that is causing depression during August in the UK. What is LOS? Lack of sunshine, of course.

I have been fortunate enough to avoid being outside when two sudden very heavy showers, one this morning and the other this afternoon, occurred; in fact, on both occasions I got indoors about five minutes before the heavens opened. I remember being taught in geography lessons when I was at school that the predominent British climate was warm, wet with westerly winds. But I don't remember the summers ever being like this.

I Fancied A Change

I'm a woman, I'm allowed to change my appearance every now and again; so I have. I checked out what was available and thought I would give this one a try and see how I liked it. Who knows, I may design something unique, but that would probably take me a long time. I like a challenge. If the blog disappears in a cloud of smoke, you know I have messed it up.

The things that I will do to avoid doing an OU assignment.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

At Last.......I Am Connected

Yes, I really am back online at home. For the first time since 23 July when my connection to the Internet suddenly disappeared in the middle of the day, I am able to surf the web, update my blog whenever I want, read my emails as and when they come in, and do all those things that I have only been able to do by spending several hours a day in the local library.

As I said here and here, you don't realize how much you rely on something until you no longer have it, and for me this was especially true with respect to my being able to connect to the Internet. I rely on it for so much these days, and it is especially important to me for things like my OU studies, and more recently my blog.

But I don't have to worry now. I am back online, and if the fancy takes me I can blog no matter what the time of day or night, I can shop online, I can search for information and collateral information to be included in my OU essays, and do all manner or research on various matters.

I feel I have been given my voice back again. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, you were an absolute genius to come up with the concept of the world-wide web, and incredible person to give it to the world for free. What can I say except "Thank you very much".

Mental Illness and Discrimination

Late last night I was sitting watching the end of the film on BBC1 when a public information film came on. I didn't pay too much attention to it to start with, but then a number of words seem to attack my consciousness and my attention was drawn to see what its message was.

It showed a scene in a hospital, probably an A&E department (but as I said I wasn't really watching to start with) and the voiceover was talking about the qualities needed, and those not acceptable, for employment, presumably in the hospital. Anyway the voiceover continued and said something about 'not suffering frequent bouts of depression' and I guess it was this that had attracted my attention, because as the medical team were fighting to start the patient's heart the voiceover continued, 'Congratulations you have just turned down Florence Nightingale'.

The final message was from the government telling employers not to discriminate against people with mental illness, particularly depression.

I suffered terrible discrimination and lack of understanding about my depression when I was working, and it was this that eventually led me to become so anxious and depressed that work became impossible. I lost all confidence in my ability to do a job that I loved, and for which I was well qualified and exceptionally capable. In the end I had to seek early retirement on the grounds of ill-health. The loss of self-esteem that resulted from me being placed in this position, and my continuing lack of confidence in myself to do even some quite simple things, mean that I am still too afraid to even attempt to find myself a part-time job. I worry about what I am qualified to do, and what I would do if I was put into a situation that I couldn't cope with.

Two things about this film struck a chord. The first was that such a film should be shown so late at night, in fact in the early hours of the morning, and the second was the message that the government were trying to get across.

Why did the second thing strike such a chord? Well, I was employed by the Ministry of Defence, so it could be said that I worked for the government. I really wish they would practice what they preach.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Sitting In The Local Library

Since I lost my Internet connection and I have had to use the computers in the local library, I have also found that I have been doing a lot more reading. I have found a lovely series of books by M C Beaton, about a middle-aged lady called Agatha Raisin. This lady lives in a village in the Cotswolds and is is like a modern-day Miss Marple, although she does more in the way of detecting and less comparison with other village characters, than Agatha Christie's great female detective did.

These books are hardly great works of literature, but they do afford me a few hours of enjoyment as I read their pages. I've read five of them so far, and I've found another one in the library today, so I have taken that out on loan and will no doubt manage to read it over the next day or two.

M C Beaton also wrote the highly enjoyable books about the Scottish policeman, Hamish Macbeth; a policeman who operated to his own rules, but who ensured that real criminals got their just desserts, while allowing the various inhabitants of Lochdubh to continue with their sometimes barely legal pursuits. Hamish Macbeth was successfully brought to television in the 1990s by the BBC with Robert Carlyle as the ubiquitous policeman. The Agatha Raisin stories have been broadcast on Radio Four with Penelope Keith as Agatha Raisin, and although she does not physically fit the description of Agatha in the books, I can see that she would bring a certain something to the part that would be most enjoyable.

What is most surprising about the Agatha Raisin books is that although they were written by a British author, who lives in Britain, and they are about a very English village with its archetypal inhabitants, the books were published in America, long before getting published here. I suppose that it is as a result of reading these slightly comic adventures that the Americans get such strange ideas about the British and about our country. I am sure that they believe that everything that is written is true and exactly as it is in this country, while now that we can eventually read this simple lovely stories, where Agatha does encounter more murders than anyone would want to, we can sit and laugh at the characters that are pure caricature.

Lack Of Sleep And The Olympics

I haven't slept very well for the last couple of nights, and I'm not quite sure whether it was knowing that the Olympics were on television which kept me awake, or getting hooked on watching the Olympics.

I really did mean to lie down and go to sleep last night, but unfortunately I had dozed off for a couple of hours in the early evening while I was lying on the settee reading a book. It's my own fault, I know, but sleep is one of those things that I take whenever I can get it because I know that my sleep pattern can be very erratic.

Several times I switched the box off got myself into a comfortable position in bed, only to start fidgeting and tossing and turning, so that I was wide awake again. In the end, I just gave up all attempts at sleep and lay in bed watching the fare from Beijing. First of all it was the cross country phase of the three-day eventing, which somewhat perversely was taking place over four days, that held my attention, but after a while it can get a bit boring watching various horses and their riders going round what was obviously a golf course given a face-lift for the occasion. Just as this was starting to pall, the BBC moved to the Water Cube for the swimming. This was a bit more exciting.

There were various semi-finals and a number of finals to watch and it's always more interesting when you know that medals are going to be won. British swimmers had done quite well getting into a number of the finals, and two events stand out as being exceptional examples of what the Olympics are all about. The first was the Men's 4x100m Freestyle relay which was a race and a half. Not only did the winning US team knock a huge margin off the world record, but every team in the final set a national record with their swim. It must be a very rare occasion indeed, that such a race will take place. The second event was the Women's 400m Freestyle, where the commentators all agreed that Britain had a real chance of a medal. Becky Adlington swam a perfect race to win the gold medal, the first by a British lady swimmer for 48 years, and Jo Jackson won the bronze. And what was Becky's reaction to the win? "I didn't swim as fast as I should have."

I have to admit that I was silently "screaming" as the race entered its final stages. I always feel as if I am there when our sportsmen and women are in the fray, so even though I was tired I was glad that I had seen this incredible race live.

After that, I seemed to relax in a way that had not been possible before, and I fell asleep for a couple of hours without any trouble at all. Things will be so much easier when the Olympics are in London and events occur at normal hours for me.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Falling Apart

Why does everything on or in your body start falling apart when you get to 50. If this isn't a clear indicator that living for "three score years and ten" was the absolute limit to what we could expect, then I don't know what is. I remember my Cambridgeshire GP making joking remarks to me as I approached my 50th birthday, that on that date things would really start to pack up and go wrong. What really upsets me is that it seems that he was right.

Since reaching that horrendous milestone, I have injured just about every muscle in my legs, I have had a couple of attacks of sciatica, one of which left me crawling around on my hands and knees as it was impossible to walk, I have had a couple of bouts of labyrinthitis which left me feeling seasick while still on dry land, a frozen shoulder from who knows where, and an emergency gall bladder operation a couple of days before I was due to go on holiday with my father (he died a couple of months later).

There can be no doubt that things really do not work so well when you get older. I have tried to remain as active as I can over the years, but just warming up to be ready to take some exercise can result in breathlessness and working up a sweat. I know that if we have a couple of dry days over the next week, I am going to get a really good dose of exercise. I'm going to have to cut the grass, and as the house is on a corner, there is a huge lawn at the side.

I shall wear my pedometer just to check how much walking I do backwards and forwards with the mower and emptying the grass into the bin.

I hate gardening!