On Monday morning, I had my first appointment with my new mental health support worker named Sebastian from Mentis Assist. I’ve barely had much time to process the fact that not only do I have an NDIS service agreement but I’ve also managed to find myself another support worker in the space of a few days. It’s all happening so fast and yet it’s come at the right time with my mental health deteriorating quite significantly over the past week or two.
It’s also been a necessary transition for me from leaving my previous support worker Ally and short lived replacement Vadim about a month ago. To be fair, I’ve felt like I’ve been going through the motions with them over the past 6 months or so and a change in support worker was desperately needed in order to get my life back on track again. So approaching Mentis Assist as my NDIS provider was a big risk for me but one that is so far paying off pretty well.
Last Friday my NDIS Team Leader, Tracey, made the necessary arrangements to link me in with my new support worker, Sebastian. I would be meeting him at Jamaica Blue Cranbourne every Monday morning. Nervous is an understatement. I guess I always seem to have this reaction when it comes to meeting new people. I can’t help it. I made the strategic move of popping into The Reject Shop and buying myself a notepad and pen to essentially flood my mind and come up with some ideas to chat about before my first appointment.
When I finally settled down at Jamaica Blue and met Seb in the flesh, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was doing my best to mask my anxiety but I could tell I was far from relaxed in the tone of my voice. Having to literally hit the reset button with somebody new is not easy for me but walking through the fear is a necessary evil. Seb did his best to make this meeting as casual and relaxed as possible and I mentally appreciated his efforts.
Seeing as this first appointment was essentially a “getting to know you”, I didn’t delve too deeply into my personal issues. If I presented my medical records and 32 years worth a problems to a new support worker, I would most likely scare him off. Beginning a new therapeutic relationship takes time to build. Of course there were plenty of awkward moments during that hour and a half but I pretty much expected it. At least we could both acknowledge it.
I learned that Seb is 27 years old and has only been a support worker for 4 months whilst still completing his mental health training. His interests include cooking, movies, music, computers, reading, Science Fiction and writing. On that basis, I think that Mentis Assist has done well to match me up with a support worker who has similar interests to myself and personality wise I found him very easy to get along with. As in the song, things can only get better. https://mentisassist.org.au/get-support/for-yourself
On Monday night, I went to a Vinyasa yoga class with Aaron Petty at Level Up Yoga (Berwick, Victoria) in Berwick. This year has been a rather turbulent one when it comes to maintaining a regular yoga practice. So many things in my life have gotten in the way of it including my mental health issues, sleep problems and other commitments. I keep telling myself that “Yep this is it. I’m booking the class in for tonight.” and it never seems to pan out.
The other reason is that whenever I set foot into Aaron’s yoga studio, my inner critic is on 10. The negative thoughts just never seem to stop (You can’t relate to any of these people. You’re so bad at making conversation. You’ll never fit in here. You’re not as cool as the others. Why do you bother trying?). But I’ve been trying hard to tell my anxiety to shut the fuck up and have the strength to get through a yoga class no matter what’s going on upstairs.
I think I generally did okay in the class tonight. The one thing that I really pride myself on is trying fucking hard, that determination to do the best that I can. We did several flowing sequences including Three-Legged Dog to Low Lunge, Half Splits, Crescent Lunge, Warrior 2, Triangle Pose, Plank Pose, Cobra/Up-Dog and Downward Facing Dog plus Half Pigeon and Serpentine Twists. https://www.aaronpetty.com/
On Tuesday morning, I had my first appointment with Dr. Ricardo Peralta at OPTIMIND Bayside Specialist Centre in Patterson Lakes. Taking a new pathway in my mental health recovery has been extremely daunting for me to say the least. Suffice it to say, my current treatments are just not as effective as they used to be and I really need to try something else. Hence why I decided to seek out a psychiatrist as they can also prescribe medication which so desperately needs changing right now. https://optimind.com.au/services/psychiatry/
I made the appointment with Dr. Peralta six weeks ago and now today’s the day. I did my best to research things like “what to expect at my first appointment with a psychiatrist” in order to get myself mentally prepared for today. I also wanted to make sure that I brought along as much evidence and paperwork as possible. I literally have a green document wallet filled with medical records, notes, letters, referrals, blood test results and forms. You name it. I didn’t want to forget anything! https://nepeanspecialistgroup.com.au/specialists/dr-ricardo-peralta
I’ve had to dispense of all those stereotypes and cliches of what seeing a psychiatrist used to be like (lying down on the couch, interpreting ink blot drawings, psychoanalysis, getting electric shocks, being locked up in a mental institution wearing a strait jacket) as these are most likely NOT going to happen to me. Obviously modern psychiatry is vastly different and has evolved considerably over time especially with the introduction of ethics and human rights. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/sacramento-street-psychiatry/201410/brief-history-psychiatry
Sitting in the reception waiting area, I was doing the best I could to keep myself distracted and positive by observing my surroundings and glancing over at the flat screen TV. I brought my Mum along as a support as I didn’t know how I was going to be. Dr. Peralta came out of his office a little after 11am and greeted me with a handshake which was something I wasn’t expecting at all but it immediately put me at ease. However, my body was not complying and once I walked inside the office, I could feel my anxiety steadily rising inside of me.
Dr. Peralta’s private office suite was small and clinically white with basic soft furnishings, a timber office desk, a couple of comfy armchairs, a ticking clock and a beach wall print. He asked me a lot of questions about my childhood, family background, current medication, how I’ve been feeling lately, my symptoms of depression and anxiety, what I do during the day, what I do for work, my sleeping problems and friendships. He was taking down notes on a notepad as I was talking, very much in classic therapist style.
It was pretty casual for the most part but it took so much effort and concentration that I was rapidly becoming drained and very flustered. It was also pretty difficult bringing up personal details from the past but I knew I had to do this in order to help myself. This was going much better than I expected. Dr. Peralta was very compassionate, caring, understanding and had a good ear. He was also very knowledgeable and professional and this made me feel good. It meant that I’d selected a really good psychiatrist.
Next thing was talking about the “M” word…medication. I told him straight that my current medication, 100mg Zoloft (Sertraline), has basically been ineffective at treating my symptoms and in the last few months hasn’t really done much to help at all. And so he has prescribed me a course of Lexapro (Escitalopram) 10mg which will hopefully do something to help. Still there is a process of coming off my current medication which will take about a week or so to transition to the new medication. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-63990/lexapro-oral/details
Whilst this first appointment was very nerve-racking for me, I feel hopeful that now I’m on the right pathway to a recovery for my mental health issues as well as making positive life changes for myself into 2019. It’s a massive relief that I’ve chosen a psychiatrist who seems to be on the same wavelength as myself and actually understands my problems. He also assured me that if this medication isn’t a good fit for me, that we’ll try something else to help. I’ll be having a follow up appointment with him in about a month’s time.
On Thursday night, I had my second Sleep Intervention workshop session held at La Trobe University Psychology Clinic in Bundoora. The last couple of days have been difficult as I’ve had to make my first transition in stepping down my Sertraline (Zoloft) tablets from 100mg to 50mg. Whilst the changes haven’t been too dramatic, I have noticed that my sleep has gotten worse recently and this has had a direct impact on my motivation and energy levels particularly after waking up in the morning.
During the day, it seems to take a lot more effort than usual to complete everyday tasks but thankfully these things are still manageable. As a result, I wanted to make sure that for tonight that I don’t repeat the mistakes I made last Thursday. This includes leaving earlier to prepare myself for the peak hour traffic leading up to the Bulleen and Heidelberg areas. Being sure to get off at the correct exit from the Eastern Freeway. And to park in a carpark where I know that my car won’t be locked inside a security compound after hours (Awkward!).
In tonight’s session, we learned about how using mindfulness techniques can help to deal with the anxiety and struggles related to trying to fall and stay asleep. We practiced a couple of these techniques as a group including doing a body scan, focusing on our breathing and dealing with physical sensations and pain in the body. The idea behind mindfulness is to be an observer of your thoughts, feelings and emotions without getting caught up in them and being able to be in the present moment. https://www.innerhealthstudio.com/body-scan-sleep.html
I’ve had some experience with mindfulness in the past from learning about different medication styles, watching YouTube videos on the topic and reading self-help books from popular authors like Dr. Russ Harris (The Happiness Trap, ACT Made Simple). As Eric and Lauren both explained, these skills are not learned overnight and require a lot of practice and dedication. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726
They also discussed how “welcoming” our thoughts, feelings and emotions can make the process a lot easier. This can be done through describing, naming, being playful or floating with each thought or feeling. The idea behind this is to lower our level of alertness, which will then make the process of winding down before bed much easier. Eric used the example of imagining your thoughts and feelings like items on a conveyor belt and your task is to simply observe these mindfully. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health-advisor/thoughts-keeping-you-up-5-ways-to-settle-yourself-to-sleep/article22799705/
On Friday afternoon, I had my counselling session with Ruth at Piece Together Counselling in Narre Warren. Most of the time, my sessions with Ruth go pretty smoothly as her approach is very compassionate and understanding, though she tends to have an element of tough love thrown in there. I was experiencing this at a couple of points especially when I talked about my parents relationship issues which is always an uncomfortable subject for me.
But then things went a little sideways when I brought up my new mental health support worker Seb that I only just met on Monday. So far I’m in two minds about him. I certainly have some reservations already as he is inexperienced and showed signs of social awkwardness during our first appointment. Plus he is significantly younger than me. And yet I’ve chosen to let these things slide as I feel it’s way too early to judge and harshly criticism his performance based on one appointment.
Unfortunately Ruth feels differently about this and began throwing her two cents in, saying that my appointment length is far too long and I should only be seeing him once a fortnight instead of once a week. Plus she wasn’t entirely convinced that he would be a good fit for me. Whilst her opinions are valid, this conversation really rubbed me up the wrong way and it felt like she was telling me what to do, which immediately made me get agitated and defensive.
She is probably coming from a good place in wanting the best possible support worker for me but I also believe in giving people a chance to prove themselves. I could be foolish for thinking that way but quite frankly I don’t care. This is my decision and if it blows up in my face, then so be it. This is part of me being an adult and making my own decisions. There is always the option of changing my support worker if things don’t work out with Seb but I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.
“No one hears silent tears collecting. ‘Cause it’s being weak that’s strong. In the truth I found. I have courage now, I’m gonna shout it out. Teacher, I feel the dots connecting. Now I am invincible. No, I ain’t a scared little boy no more. Yeah, I am invincible. What was I running for. I was hiding from the world. I was so afraid, I felt so unsure. Now I am invincible. Another perfect storm.” Kelly Clarkson – Invincible (2015)
“Yeah, my life is what I’m fighting for. Can’t part the sea, can’t reach the shore. And my voice becomes the driving force. I won’t let this pull me overboard. God, keep my head above water. Don’t let me drown, it gets harder. I’ll meet you there at the altar. As I fall down to my knees. Don’t let me drown, drown, drown.” Avril Lavigne – Head Above Water (2018)
“Tell ’em all I said hi, hope you’ve been well. You’ve been asleep while I’ve been in hell. Tell ’em all I said hi, have a nice day. I’ll be just fine, don’t worry ’bout me. Lying on my side, watching time fly by. And I bet the whole world thought that I would give up today.” Amy Shark – I Said Hi (2018)