Monday, November 23, 2015

Living with a Secret.

This has been something that we hid for a very long time.  Almost 7 years.  In the beginning, we tried to open up about it to a few people close to us, and we were hit with such negativity that our wall went up hard and fast.  

We had to try to figure it all out.  Alone.  But in the end it was the best thing for us.

I will start with a disclaimer that everything I write on this blog is with Brett's 100% approval.  He reads all my drafts, corrects something if he doesn't agree and has the final say.

That said... it is all me writing from my point of view.  

You will notice that I use "US" a lot.  That is because from day one, this has been something we have been discovering, learning and living with TOGETHER.  Even though it isn't about me... it is also very much about me.   

I will have Brett do a guest blog... one day.

I guess I should start from the beginning.

From the day I met Brett, he has been the most outgoing, friendly, kind and loving man I have ever met. He has a very big sense of humour.  He is very witty.  He is highly intelligent.  He is passionate about music and history.  

When we met, he had heaps of friends and was always the life of the party.  We spent most of our free time with friends or going out together.  We were always with people.  

Brett has always suffered from insomnia.  He took sleeping tablets in the beginning, but found that it was really hard to get out of bed in the morning.  It was like he was majorly hung over.  It would take him the first 3 or so hours to "wake up".  He hated the feeling, so only took them when he was desperate for sleep.  

I guess I started seeing Brett change dramatically in 2004.  He started to withdraw more and more from the world.  He started dodging friends and hiding out at home.  He had lost his passion for life.  He no longer found his favourite sitcoms funny.  He was no longer interested in reading, or writing, or music.  He was only just living.   I would try and "drag" him to functions.  He would sit in the corner, until he had enough and we would have to make up an excuse to leave.  I found it was sometimes easier to go without him.  He hated being with people.  He got very anxious walking into a room of even a few people we knew. 

We had many conversations about what he thought was going on.  Each time, he would go around in circles, coming back to the fact that he had no idea.

Everything was wonderful.  We had 2 beautiful babies.  We had a rock solid marriage.  He loved his job.  But something wasn't right.  I started suspecting depression, so I asked him to come with me to see our family doctor.  We are really lucky to have a wonderful GP, whom is male and he is about Brett's age.  Brett trusted him 100%, so it was easy to get him to come to see him.  I am thankful he came with me.  He didn't protest once.  He knew something was wrong.  He saw the panic in my eyes.  I saw it in his.  We took the step together.  I think this made it much easier for him.  He knew I had his back.

Our GP started Brett off on some low dose anti depressants, and sent him to see a psychiatrist and a phycologist.  

For the next 2 years, he waded through life day by day.  They tried a few different anti-depressants and a few different doses.  For the first 6 weeks on a new medication, or when his dosage was upped, he would be in a constant state of nausea and he would have a constant headache.  After the 6 weeks, he would be able to "manage" and "cope" with life.  Until he became "immune" to the drug and they would change to another type.  Apparently this is normal and usually only takes a couple of trials before you find the one for you.  So why weren't mainstream anti-drepressants working?

We stopped socialising.  He started getting anxiety with the thought of leaving the house.   He had to psych himself up to do anything.  A trip to the doctors became a month long planned event.  His days consisted of home and work.  There was nothing in between. 


Friends disappeared as we struggled to try to figure out our life.  We became hobbits.  I was dying inside for outside contact, but my priorities were my husband.  Nothing else mattered.  

Brett didn't think there was an answer to what was going on inside his head.  He struggled with the demons.  He struggled with things that were being brought up in his phycologist sessions from his childhood.  He told me the only place he felt safe was in our home.  He struggled with the anger that he had suppressed for so many years.  He struggled with being the best possible father he wanted to be, when all he knew was a father and a step-father who tore his childhood apart.  He started to realise that he had these feelings from as early as he can remember.  

The cycles were vicious.  He would go for weeks functioning as "normal" then he would crash.  Nothing would set it off.  It would just happen.  There was no way of predicting an episode.  And there was no way of getting him out of it.  We just had to ride it out.  

In 2006 he hit rock bottom for the first time.  I felt like a single mama to 3 babies under 3.5years.  He would come home from work, sit on the couch and not move.  He would toss and turn every night.  I remember the day I called 000.  He wouldn't get out of bed.  He was mumbling something about taking his own life.  I sat on the floor beside him and begged him to get up.  I begged him to not think about that.

As the tears streamed down my cheeks, I finally screamed for help.  No longer were our doctors enough.   I sat out on our driveway in tears talking to the local mental health hospital.  I begged for help.  I was losing him.

My heart was breaking for my husband.  For my children.  For me.   I wanted to make it all better.  I wanted to tell him it was going to be ok.  But I didn't know that.  

I kept asking him to tell me what the problem was.  What was making him "down"?  If we fixed that, he would be better.   Right?

But it wasn't that simple.

The hospital mental health clinic were wonderful.  I couldn't fault them.  They were on our doorstep within an instant.  They did daily phone calls to check in with Brett and weekly home visits to have a "chat".

We were put in contact with a Cognitive Therapist.  He was just what we needed.  Brett saw him weekly. He learnt technics to "survive".  I had sessions to help me understand what was needed from me.  At one stage, I saw myself slipping into a minor depressive state.  How could I not?  What we were going through was hell.  

Finally, in 2007, 3 years after our initial "depression" diagnosis, we finally had a 100% definite diagnosis.   And it all started making sense.  

Brett is Bipolar II.

Today, almost 10 years since his diagnosis, Brett is doing well.  We have learnt a lot about his illness.  The struggles fluctuate from daily to sometimes months apart.  But we know how to "handle" them.  We will always have to "handle" them.  That is life when living with Bipolar.

2008 - Not long after final diagnosis.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Large Family Stigma

Camille goes to Tiny Tots Ballet.  She loves it.  She is a born natural.  Dancing around the house constantly.  Making up her own routines.  She eagerly asks when "dance day" is.  Every. Single. Morning.

As I left her in the studio today, I made my way up to the “parents waiting room”.  A small room with 6 or so chairs and a couple of toy boxes.  I took my spot on one of the chairs and settled in for a hour of reading my book.  I smiled at a couple of the other mums and joined in a brief conversation and was then asked the dreaded question.  “How many children do you have?”

It is a question that defines us as mothers.  I held up my hand, my whole hand, and sheepishly said “Five.”  The gasps were deafening.  I looked around the room.  Pure shock  was written all over their faces.  “Oh. My. God.  Are you crazy?” asked one of the mothers.  I smiled, unable to think on my feet of an answer.  I don’t know these mothers.  I knew I was going to spend half and hour or so in this room with them every week, so I didn’t want to “snap”.

Another mother, pregnant with her 3rd and 4th child said “Well, I guess I am only 1 behind you, but we only planned 3.  Did you plan 5?”  “Yes” I quietly replied, not really wanting to go into the details with a bunch of women I don’t know.

I already knew what they were thinking.  I have heard it too many times.

According to society, I must be either stupid, a slut, doing it for the money or a combination to have this many children.  Nobody in their right mind would have, yet alone plan and want five children.  Too many times I lunge straight into my standard spiel, quickly telling them that all FIVE are to my husband of 14 years -  making sure they knew that my eldest was only 12, subconsciously making them aware that I didn’t get married just because I was pregnant.  That is a whole other conversation.  Why do people assume that the only reason I got married at 20 was because I was pregnant?
These days I choose to smile and just answer yes or no to the stupid and rude questions including:

“Wow!  You’ve got your hands full, don’t you?”  Ya think?  What is your point?

“Don’t you know what causes it?”  Seriously?  How do you want me to answer this question?  It is just plain rude.

“Are they all from the same father?”  Another extremely rude question.  What are you implying?

 “Don’t you have a TV?”  Seriously.  I get this one DAILY.  All.  The.  Time.

“Have you had enough yet?”  Not that our decision on having a family is any business of yours, but yes, we have decided that 5 is our number.  That said… if we wanted more, we would go ahead and have more and there is nothing you can say that would change our minds.

Unfortunately the amount of people asking rude and disrespectful questions, far outweigh the lovely comments that I do receive.  What I don’t understand is people motives for asking such questions.  No matter the answer it is none of your business, and my answer is much more of a story than the quick answer you are after.

Next time you see a mother (or father) with a bunch of children, either mind your business and keep your stupid questions to yourself (and be assured, she has heard them all before) or just smile politely and move on.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

One Big Reason

I always knew I wanted to get married and have a family.  I remember as early as 12-13 mapping out my family life.  I was going to find Mr Reason, get married and have 3-4 children, at least!

When I left school, I went to work in the family business.  My parents owned restaurants.  I had worked in them since I was 15.

In mid 1998, they opened their 2nd restaurant.  I worked mainly nights, which I loved.  Just before the restaurant opened, Brett moved into a house with a couple of mates only a street away.   They would come down for coffee, and sometimes dinner on a regular basis.  During the next few months we got to know each other and we found we had a lot in common.  Brett tried a number of times to "woo" me, to which I was a little stand off-ish.  I had a boyfriend, and Brett was also a customer.

A few months later, I broke up with my boyfriend.  Brett knew this.  I started finding things on my car window when I would finish a late shift.  I would find chocolates, flowers and little notes on my windscreen as I came out to my car at 1am.  Brett tells me now, that he remembers saying to his mate, the very first night we spoke, that "I am going to marry her one day!"

In May 1999, I was driving to my little granny flat after finishing another late shift.  I had to drive past Brett's house to get home.  No really, I did!  This particular night, he was out the front of his house, saying goodbye to some mates.  His cat ran out in front of my car and I stopped.

We talked for over an hour.

In the middle of the street.

With my car still running, door wide open.

I invited him over for dinner and a movie the following weekend.  It was something I did with my friends all the time.  We would have dinner and crash in my lounge room.

This particular night was "The Goonies".

I remember thinking that it just felt right.  We just clicked.  I was 18.  Brett was 25.

But I was still in denial.  We were just friends.  I wasn't over my boyfriend.

In June, both of our leases were up.   Brett wanted to move out of his mates house, and I was after something bigger - my place was a shoebox.

I am not sure who suggested it, but we found a cute little house a couple of streets away.  It was only $10 more on rent each than what we were paying, but was 3x as big.

We moved in as "flat mates".  We had separate rooms, came and went as we were single.  But, really, it was more than that.  He continued to "woo" me.  We had dinner together on the nights we both weren't working.  He would cook me breakfast.  He would bring me home flowers.

I remember thinking about why I thought it wasn't real.  It couldn't be real.  He was perfect in every way.  Then why was I in denial?

We had a conversation together one night, and I kept saying that I wasn't sure whether to listen to my heart or my head.  In my heart, I had already fallen in love, but in my head, I was scared that it couldn't be this easy.  My head was telling me to be careful not to get hurt.

I remember the exact moment it hit me.  I worked a morning shift and he was working the night shift at his work.  I came home that afternoon to find Brett had programmed the CD player to play Roxette's "Listen to your Heart" on repeat.   It hit me like a tonne of bricks.  He is my soul mate.  He is my world.  I wanted to be with him forever.

Brett came home from work that night, to find that I had moved all his clothes from his room into the walk-in-wardrobe in the main room.  I had made  it official.  We had "moved in" together.

How young and dorky are we!?
I was 19, Brett was almost 26 here.

In October 1999, he proposed.  It wasn't a romantic, sweep you off your feet kind of a thing.  It was us.  It was comfortable.  And I already knew it was coming.  I accidentally found the ring a few weeks before.  Apparently he was trying to find some over-the-top, epic movie, jaw dropping way to propose.  But in the end, he just knew that it didn't matter, and one quiet Sunday morning, after making me breakfast in bed, he knelt on the side of the bed and ask me to marry him.

11 months later, we married and bought a house.  Our life had begun.....

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