Nightmare

Singapore Breakfast

Dear Ms Tiph,

We, here at the Universe Department for Just Another Weekday would like to acknowledge your request for a weekday by virtue of the fact you woke up. We’re so glad you could join us. You see, we have this truly nightmarish day we’d like you to have. No, no. We promise, it’s right up your alley. What happens first is you’ll need to go to the library to print something, like you’ve done at least half a dozen times before. The thing is, the library has recently undergone a renovation. So it is new computers and new printers, and they are FULL of glitches because the software has been updated and the staff haven’t had a chance to get their head around it yet. We would like to point out that at this juncture you will not be alone in your frustration; we are fielding requests for weekdays just like yours for every library staff member also.

After 4 times as long at the library performing a simple task, it is time to navigate the busiest carpark in town. There will be no spaces available that aren’t next to poorly parked vehicles. Bring your best manoeuvring skills and be glad you aren’t still in the city.

Your trip to the chemist will be acceptable.

Next on the agenda is a visit to a government department. You know how you’ve been sick for a very long time? You know how you have to periodically deal with government departments to ensure your livelihood? You know how it is normally a hassle?  Well, today will be different. We have ramped up the hassle for you. What is going to happen is that you will take the same medical documentation to the department that you have been giving them for a year. Today the condescending individual at the front desk will tell you it is potentially not acceptable. After you explain this has been acceptable documentation for a year and that the convoluted documentation the individual requests has been unavailable to your specialist in the past, the individual will become patronising and insist that it is your responsibility to fix a systemic issue between the government department and the medical centre. You will leave with a small flare of symptoms. You will want the afternoon in bed, even though there are many other things for you to do.

Your return trip to the chemist will be acceptable, but 2 people in the carpark will glare at you for no reason you can decipher. Normally not a problem, but after the previous encounter you will be quite sensitive to these things.

After arriving home, ignore the desire to go to bed to soothe your symptoms and carry on with tasks that have been ignored for long enough you cannot possibly go another afternoon without completing them. You will wind up in bed anyway.

Just before 5pm, the government department will ring you to say your documentation is unacceptable. They will tell you to go to the GP and tell you to get another piece of documentation that has the same information in a new format. Explain to them that this is an absurd request, because they have the information in front of them. They will explain they are not a doctor and therefore cannot ‘make the call’ on a matter that the current documentation addresses. Read to them from your copy. Have them insist you must go to the GP (in the next 2 days) and get the new documentation. Explain that you are unwell and cannot simply go to the GP as though it is no big deal. Explain again that your documentation comes from a specialist who works 1 day a week and is 3 hours away. They will tell you the GP can fill in the new format document based on the information in the unacceptable documentation. Enquire why then, the documentation is unacceptable. They will explain again that they are not a doctor. Ask them to see sense. They will tell you they are ‘simply the bearer of bad news’, and imply you are rorting the system. Hang up and begin suffering full-blown physical PTSD symptoms.

You will then call the medical centre, as time is of the essence, and discover that your GP is no longer working at the centre (although they were there 3 weeks ago and made no mention of resigning), and make an appointment to see a GP who has no idea about your medical history. Get the new format documentation, but not to cover you for the entire period you need it for, because the GP does not know your history.

Fire off a complaint to the government department.

Finally, it will be time to collapse at home, in pain, and have your beautiful progeny beg you to sing an endless medley of songs. The giggles will be worth it. Unfortunately, you will spend 1-3 days in bed after dealing with this day. But on the plus side, we at the Universe Department for Just Another Weekday are unable to make robust plans if you aren’t moving between more than 3 rooms of your house, so you’re safe.

Do call again.

Sincerely,
The Universe Department for Just Another Weekday.

The antidote to days like this is a properly comforting cup of tea, and I have discovered one that fits the bill: Singapore Breakfast. It holds all the deliciousness and comfort of a hot chocolate with no where near the same degree of preparation or refined sugar (as in, none compared to some). Singapore Breakfast is a mellow brew with an overall creamy taste and texture. It has buttery, coconut and popcorn notes that round out the complex flavour profile. The smooth cup feels like a hug from the inside and is a warm and comforting sip for any time of day. Complex and creamy enough on its own, if you don’t take black without milk, on add the tiniest splash. This one stands alone, and should be enjoyed often.

Singapore Breakfast: 5/5
Enjoy with: Good days, bad days, and every in between day.

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Spaghetti Arms

Chocolate

I understand it’s quite fashionable to talk about one’s mental health problems. I’m all for fighting the stigma around mental health, but part of the issue with talking about mental health like we talk about physical health is that is removes most of the nuance surrounding mental health conditions. I think people who suffer from mental illnesses should be allowed to say they are sick. I think they should be allowed to access the same health services as those suffering physical ailments. And I think they should be treated with the same gravity as someone suffering a long term physical illness. But I also think nuance is important in the discussion.

There’s a distinct difference between feeling depressed for a few days and battling suicidal thoughts for a few years. There’s a difference between the baby blues and prolonged post-natal depression. There’s a difference between concern over a big work presentation and debilitating anxiety. And like the general public has learned to recognise the difference between a sprained ankle and torn ligaments, the public ought to be privy to the differences in degrees of mental health concerns, and the circular causes that perpetuate certain mental illnesses. Every statistic and study and in the world won’t necessarily help the average, mentally healthy person come to grips with the complexity of what an unhealthy individual faces. That is why stories matter.

Mental illness is not untreatable, however, as a patient it can feel as though the future is bleak because it takes time, commitment, and experimentation for an individual health solution to be reached. The common remedy for most mental illnesses is a combination of good sleep, healthy eating, physical activity, routine, social connection, medication, counselling, and some kind of mental rejuvenation habit like mindfulness or meditation. To a healthy person, it seems like this is a manageable combination of factors with a little bit of dedication.

So why does a mentally unhealthy person have so much trouble managing?

Well, imagine the 8 things listed above are physical items you have to hold. Healthy people will find a way to cradle them in their arms, or just put 1 or 2 things down if it’s too much to hold all of them. The mentally unhealthy have arms made of overcooked spaghetti. So we stand in front of the very things that will help us improve our situation, with no way of knowing even how to move our arms. And so, we despair. How are we ever going to get better? We can’t move our spaghetti arms.

It’s not unusual that well-meaning people tell us sick folk to ‘just try to get up’, or to ‘have a green smoothie’, or ‘go for a run’. All good suggestions, all things helpful to overall well being. But you’re a step ahead of us, healthy people. We have the spaghetti arms thing going on.

Some people carry on as if they don’t have spaghetti arms, and these folk are one step behind again. First they need to be able to accept their slippery appendage situation. And this isn’t easy, especially when for your whole life, you’ve had normal arms, and you look at everyone around you with normal arms and you wish for all your life the spaghetti arms weren’t a thing. But they are a thing, and some of us have them.

This is one of the many reasons it can be so frustrating to hear stories of people who have successfully managed their mental illness. They say the same things helped them: exercising regularly, sleeping well, eating healthier food. I’ve found myself reading success stories thinking, “I KNOW all this, but I just CAN’T!” I haven’t learned to work my pasta arms. I hear these things and it makes me feel like I might never get better, which exacerbates my condition.

We need you to be patient as we learn to accept our new wobbly-armed existence. And as we learn to hold all the pieces in place with our wobbly arms, one baby step at a time. And for all my spaghetti-armed buddies out there, be kind to yourself. Sometimes you’ll hold it all together. Sometimes you’ll drop everything and have to start from the beginning again. But on those days, just wave your spaghetti arms high in the air with me. You can count it as exercise for the day.

The ‘what’ might be very similar between people when it comes to recovery, but the how is going to change from person to person. All the spaghetti arm stories matter. They’re all a little bit different.

On the days when we’re waving our wavy arms in the air, we have to be kind to ourselves. Most of us have some kind of coping mechanism we resort to. I’m a big fan of chocolate.

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I tried really hard to eat less chocolate, by investing in Chocolate tea. And hear this: it’s a great tea. It’s a strong black tea with cocoa husks in it. This means it tastes like black tea, but comes with some added sweetness and an aftertaste a little like you ate dark chocolate half an hour ago. It’s a terrific tea. A little bit of milk makes is creamy, but I like it best all on its own.

But when you are looking for a block of chocolate, don’t put those expectations on the tea. It will not deliver. If you’re like me, some days you can’t substitute the big guns.

Chocolate: 3/5
Enjoy with: spaghetti-armed chums