My Topsy-Turvy Week – Week of 13 February 2017

So, the week finishing today has thrown me a lot of different emotions. A diagnosis, a major fire, a victory, a good-bye, a frustrating day, and, finally, a “down” day.

For some of this, I’m going to be a little vague. Please bear with me. I’m coming to terms with some of it, and some of it is vague to protect privacy of others.

Monday: The Diagnosis

So, as many of you who know me might know, last year I developed a cough that went away and came back. The doctor diagnosed atypical pneumonia, commonly known as “walking pneumonia”, most likely caused by a virus. After a course of antibiotics, the congestion cleared, but I still would get an odd tightness in that lung, and any type of physical activity — even climbing stairs in the first weeks — caused me a great deal of tiredness. I also gained about 5 to 6 kilograms / 11 to 13 pounds at the time.

I have had viruses and illnesses before where I physically get tired but my mind and will want to keep going. This, more often than not, causes me trouble, because I end up over-exerting myself and making the recovery time that much longer.

This time, I decided I’d just take it easy, which probably did help somewhat in the recovery.

The tightness in the lung tended to go away on its own. It seems, from what we could tell, that being an asthmatic and having just had a virus caused any minor irritant (even air fresheners or cologne) could set off a reaction. An x-ray before Christmas showed nothing abnormal going on in my body whatsoever.

But the tiredness prevailed, and so did I.

The doctor put it down to the virus, then anaemia (as, I guess, that’s a pretty common after-effect of pneumonia). He asked me to get a blood test, just in case.

I hate needles. I hate my blood being taken even more. But I had fasted before I went to the doctor, and so his nurse could take a blood sample.

Sad thing was, she couldn’t find a vein, and, after 20 minutes, she gave up and told me to go to the blood laboratory to get it done, as they deal with drawing blood all the time.

Being a holiday weekend that weekend, I didn’t get it done until the following Friday, the 10 February.

This Monday — 13 February — first thing in the morning, I got a call from the doctor to tell me a somewhat-unexpected diagnosis.

(I was in shock, went into Noel’s office, and completely broke down crying. I’d made an appointment to see the doctor on Thursday, but I was so upset that Noel called the medical centre and got an emergency appointment to see the doctor on the same day as the diagnosis.)

As I said before, I don’t really want to get into it right now, but I still get upset even thinking about it.

(On a positive note, I am proud of myself for not taking, “It will pass,” as an answer and pushing for more tests. Had I not pushed, I wouldn’t have received the diagnosis, and I could have caused more damage to my body as a result.  And the diagnosis explained how tired I was feeling, so we got to the bottom of it.)

The diagnosis is life-changing, and I need to make some big changes in my life in order to combat it. I might get rid of it entirely, but it is something I am stuck with for the rest of my life.

My doctor thinks that solving it is by making a simple adjustment overall, and I hope he is right. My Mom (a nurse) also thinks the same thing.

That put me more at ease, but the diagnosis nonetheless scares me and worries me.

Tuesday: The Fire, Part One

The Port Hills, on the southern edge of Christchurch, have looked extremely dry this summer. Even drier than usual, which is saying something.

Monday night, two fires started, and, as you probably know, they spread quickly.

Tuesday morning, driving into work on a clear day, we could see the smoke from the fires pushing up against the beautiful blue skies.

News sources stated that the fires would be, or had been, controlled, but, as we all know, these predictions and statements have a way of backfiring.

Wednesday: The Victory

The saying goes, “You can’t fight city hall,” but I have fought “city hall” on occasion and won many times. Sometimes, it’s just tenacity and perseverance, but what is right and just wins in the end.

Without getting into tons of detail, a government agency we deal with made a rather bad call which impacted the school, quite shallowly at first and quite deeply this year.

The call seemed to be in breach of two of their established policies, and, when we complained about this, the initial response from the CEO of this particular government agency was, “We can do what we want.”

The back-and-forth continued, and it got to a point last year or the year before where we believed it had been resolved; alas, preparations for the 2017 academic year rolled around, and it had not been resolved.

The impact on the school was quite pronounced. We pushed very hard and supplied as many facts as we could to make our case.

If the government agency hadn’t listened this time, the plan was to continue the complaint to the Minister of Tertiary Education and also to our local Member of Parliament, then the lawyer and court, and possibly also the media. The situation was dire for us, and we did not feel it was fair that a government agency that would most likely come down on us like a ton of bricks if we knowingly (and probably even unknowingly and unwittingly) broke a rule should get away with breaking their own rules. If they could break the rules, what is the point of having rules?

Two of the managers made an appointment to come see us face-to-face to “work on a way forward”. Part of me thought, “If they’re coming to see us in person, that’s a good thing,” while another part of me dreaded it.

I am honestly tired of fighting for what is right and just in my life, and I hoped that we wouldn’t have to fight this any further.

So, when the two managers arrived and we got seated around the table in Noel’s office, I was expecting the worst, but amongst the first words out of one of the manager’s mouths was, “We were wrong and we apologise.”

Besides nearly collapsing of shock (I exaggerate), I wanted to do cartwheels in the parking lot. That is, if I could do cartwheels in the parking lot.

The rest of the meeting went well and I was extremely happy the rest of the day. It put me back in a good mood. To be honest, it was nice to feel joy again, because, as you might know, I had been battling depersonalization for a while, and to feel so completely happy and joyous for the first time in a long time was amazing. Instead of pushing the emotion aside and moving on to the next thing in my life, I let it sit there and it felt good.

Wednesday: The Fire, Part Two

On Wednesday morning, the fires had intensified, and a wind change on Wednesday afternoon saw the air around work get hazy.

We can’t see the Port Hills from our building, but they are at the end of the street.

Noel and Suzie called me out, and I went out into the parking lot to see a large cloud mushrooming in the sky directly south of our building. It looked hazy and out-of-shape except the top, which appeared to grow like a mushroom cloud from a nuclear weapon exploding.

Joining them across the road and looking South, the fires had intensified, the smoke darkening and dominating the blue sky. People driving towards it and other people on the street were all looking at it. To be honest, it looked like a volcano erupting.

By the time we went home — we sometimes drive towards the Hills in order to go around the block instead of turning across traffic from our parking lot, which is right next to a rather accident-prone intersection — the sky had darkened in that area considerably, a brown-gray type of smoke darkening by the second, and we could see flames shooting up from the top of a hill where some houses are located.

Driving home, away from the fire and the smoke, we could see many people coming out and looking at the smoke, talking with one another, their faces white. Many of us remember the quakes, and it had that sort of similar vibe to it. Looking in the rear view mirror on my side of the car, and turning around and looking, the smoke only darkened more and intensified.

Thursday: The Good-Bye

After experiencing a huge creative streak and then a slump and then a gradual slide into an ever-deepening depression, coupled with anxiety, in 2014, I decided to see a counselor to help me work through it and recover.

By the time we got to our first session, I had pretty much lost all emotion and the dissociative disorder known as depersonalization had set in.

I’ve chronicled a lot of the journey on my blog, to help others with depersonalization as well as for me to remember it, but my counselor James played a big part in pulling me out of depersonalization.

Sure, there were a few times where he tried a few methods that irritated the daylights out of me (he knows that). Overall, though, he has been a compassionate, welcoming, knowledgeable, supportive counselor to guide me on the journey to recovery.

And I did just that. I recovered. I’m not 100% yet, but I think I’m at about 97% at lowest. It feels great to feel things again, to speak my mind and let the emotion out instead of bottling it up, and to sit with the emotion until it naturally leaves instead of burying it or distracting myself from it.

Late last year, James said to me that he was going on sabbatical in 2017, so we would have to finish up our sessions.

One of the things we have been reviewing, for me at least, is to “live in the present”. All too often, my mind would be thinking about something I needed to do in the future instead of worrying about, or focussing on, what was happening in the here-and-now. So, I’ve learned to be present, and, to be honest, sometimes this causes me a little bit of a problem because now I’m tending not to confront something until it’s actually happening.

Thursday was our last session.

How do I feel? Bitter sweet. I am so happy and lucky I found him to help me out. I feel like I won the lottery finding him on the first try with engaging a counselor. Our sessions really got to the bottom of things. I find it hard to trust people sometimes, and it was hard to learn to trust someone new, but he really made me feel comfortable and safe, and that helped me open up a lot. To find someone like that by chance? That’s amazing.

But I will miss him and our sessions. I honestly looked forward to talking with him each week: the way he’d give insight into something and change my world-view on it for the better. The way he would gently steer me to my own conclusions. The patience he had while we tried to tap into my emotions again, even when I kept feeling nothing at all.

I have been, and always will be, thankful for him and what he taught me.

Our last session was mostly full of happiness, laughs, reflections on our journey, and discussing these things. I honestly felt, at the time, so overwhelmingly thankful and grateful for all his help that it really pushed my sadness aside. And I felt I was very honest and very open in that last session to let him know how appreciative I was and how I felt about his help.

Where I was when I started, and where I am now, are two different places. I’ve improved for the better. I feel more authentic, and it’s a journey I need to keep taking to keep growing and discovering myself as I enter the final stage of recovery from depersonalization.

I do admit, though, I got home after the session and had a cry, because I will miss him.

Anyone who knows me knows I really hate good-byes.

Thursday: The Fire, Part Three

Driving to the counselor’s, and at his office, I can see the Port Hills. On Thursday, the fires looked a lot more subdued than they were on Wednesday, but, as we know, appearances can be deceiving.

By Thursday night, thousands had been evacuated and our national news extended their normal news bulletin from an hour to two hours to cover the Port Hills fires.

It honestly reminded me of the extended coverage they took during the Christchurch earthquakes, the constant barrage of details and aftershocks and confusion and deaths. I thought the earthquakes were far from my mind, but after the Valentine’s Day 2016 quake and the large Kaikoura earthquake 9 months later, and now these fires, it seems they were buried in a shallower grave than I thought.

Another year, another disaster. With the 6th anniversary of the devastating 22 February 2011 earthquake coming up next week, the fires forced the previous disasters to the front of our minds.

Friday: The Frustration

Well, there’s not a ton to say about Friday other than I got absolutely positively pretty much nothing of my own work done on Friday. It was great to see the drizzle and rain, and I hoped that it would help the firefighters on the Port Hills battle the blaze, but it was so humid that it made me uncomfortable.

What topped it all off was that I was wearing a rather thick polo shirt, the fresh-air vents and windows and doors were closed at the school due to possible smoke intake, and I was cleaning the school, sweat dripping off my nose and face, my shirt damp. Not even the air-conditioning in my office, turned on to full fan and set lower than normal, could cool me off.

I did get to 100% on my activity and standing for the day by last night, which was good.

But I was extremely frustrated with getting nothing done that I needed to get done at work.

Saturday: The “Down Day”

I slept 10 hours last night and woke up still feeling very exhausted.

I had promised myself yesterday that I would take it easy today because I could feel that tiredness creeping into the deep, dark parts of me.

After getting up and going to the bathroom, when I reentered the bedroom, I thought, “Screw this. I’m going back to bed.”

And I did. I just tucked myself under the blankets and thought about things while I relaxed. I didn’t doze. I didn’t fall asleep. I just relaxed.

Admittedly, I was only in bed for another 15 to 20 minutes, but it was amazing how much better it made me feel.

That was my topsy-turvy week!