Thursday 24th January 2019

Six Month Check-Up…With Myself! 2018.56.

Six Month Check-Up…With Myself! 2018.56.

What is this six month check-up about?

It is about my assessment of my physical and emotional health for the first 6 months of 2018.

Subjective? Yes.

Tougher on myself than most? I hope not. But I can be more self-critical than I probably need to be! I suspect we are all like that.

It’s no secret that when you have a cancer diagnosis that check-ups are both regular and scary. Regular ones are like this protocol for my head and neck cancer:

for the first 2 years: every 3 months. I have completed one year and really only had ONE formal check up because…I have been for surgery with my Professor 3 times post initial big surgery.

for the next 3 years: every six months. This assumes no symptoms in between checks. My cancer was a very slow growing one which was contained in one area. All fingers crossed that stays like that.

Let’s get started:

January  –  June 2018.

My Contribution to Our “2 Person Retired” Household.

  • cooking my meals which can be eaten with little chewing and are nurtitious and tasty
  • cooking and freezing meals that are adapted for me and suit my husband as well e.g. spag bol
  • cooking some add-ons for my husband’s meals e.g. my fried rice
  • making cakes. Lots of little cakes. Since discovering I “can” eat cake – with a teaspoon – this household always has freezer space for “little cakes”. I like ones with lots of icing – helps get the cake down, my husband likes no icing
  • cleaning the floors that require vacuuming each fortnight
  • cleaning my en-suite bathroom and all surfaces of shelves, sets of drawers etc in the house
  • ensuring the plants outside are watered and cared for – watering, moving them around as need be and pruning
  • grocery shopping that is specifically for me and some catch-up items as my husband does the main & bigger shop

My Self-Care Routine.

  • I would like to think I have this down pat. I do not. I sometimes do too much and wonder why I am tired or tetchy.
  • Balance of some kind is ideal. I am still learning and I can imagine many of us are too in our retirement years.
  • As someone who loved her busy-ness in work and then when caring for our grandkids and part-time teaching…but also had it affect her emotionally I KNOW this is something I need to do better.
  • What is self-care anyway….for me it is this: enough to ‘do’ each day for nothing to feel stressful and enough to ‘be’ each day to feel calm and in control of my emotions
  • I could improve my ‘going to sleep’ times and am already listening to some ‘sleep stories’ via my Calm meditation app which is helping somewhat
  • I need to remember I am not in a race for self-care or self-improvement
  • I am aware I need to think ‘marathon’ rather than ‘sprint.’

My Care For Others.

  • I am getting better at this one!
  • When I was recovering from cancer surgery in those months from July to November 2017 my physical restrictions and mental tiredness meant I could not do much at all
  • However, I now know the value of caring for and about others (without trying to be the FIXER or the PEOPLE PLEASER) and this, my readers, is a BIG step for me
  • I continue to learn about this – am I doing or saying this to ‘fix’ this person or something that can be fixed or am I doing this to show my love and support for the person as he or she fixes things themselves. A BIG one for sure.
  • And in saying that, I know my people pleasing has taken a back seat…even in the ‘boot’ of ‘my car’ as I continue to know the value of pleasing myself (not indulgently) by setting BOUNDARIES.
  • Who knew? Boundaries for me and noticing that may be my interactions with others are not exactly as I might have anticipated because of THEIR boundaries! Great learning this one!

My Physical Appearance Each Day.

  • If you have followed by blog since late last year and into 2018 you will know that, over time my physical appearance has taken on a new dimension
  • Before late October 2017 I was in survival mode as well as under life stressors including IBS and anxiety and a cancer diagnosis. This meant I cared less for my outward appearance as I was concentrating on trying to figure out how to help myself inwardly.
  • This, as it turned out, was not helpful.
  • Instead, I took a challenge to dress well each day quite seriously. It was a self-created challenge. I am not going to stop it as I know it helps me each day.

Summary.

  • I am happy with many aspects of my ‘progress’ as I know I feel better emotionally and physically.
  • I also know there are more challenges to me on the horizon but I have learned that I can and do meet challenges much better than I did.
  • All in all, I am going well.

I believe I have allowed myself, even writing this, to be vulnerable. I know I take more brave steps these days than ever before.  And yes, I have read and listened to all of Brene Brown’s work. She tells it as it is. Bravely. Words matching actions.

Have you ever considered a ‘check-up’ of this nature?

I thought it was a good way for me to review how things are really instead of giving myself a hard time about not making progress because that is clearly a bit of a fib.

I will be interested in your comments! Not about me, per se, but about the notion of a self-check.

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

 

 

 

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It’s More Surgery For Me. 2018.40.

It’s More Surgery For Me. 2018.40.

In the overall scheme of things (OSOT as my husband says) this up and coming surgery is “just what it is”. My mouth has not healed the way it might have – nothing to do with my health. Apparently the previous stent, added during surgery in early February 2018 just was not on for long enough I was told last week by Professor Clark. I was also told, that some more skin will need to be harvested from my fabulously (my word!) giving right leg for that to happen. OK. Sigh.

My right leg is such a good one: here’s a collage of how much it has helped….and healed! I am one lucky lady.

But I still found the news harder to absorb because of the details. I knew the surgery was necessary after the Professor and my prosthodonist talked then let me know before Easter. What I did not know was that I would be having ‘the stent, the stinky stent’ in for MUCH longer than before. I had a little weep about that on the way home because I know how that felt in my mouth for the few weeks last time.

So…what’s a blogger to do? Write about it and add a photo or three.

On Tuesday 1 May, following that visit in the afternoon, I wrote this post on Instagram and I admit it was to write it out rather than let it sit inside my head and I received the love, support and care from many. I have always been buoyed by this because I am socially and physically isolated here on the coast, and having friends on-line helps greatly!

Of course my husband is the best listener and advisor. My extended family gets concerned about me too but I like to think I am confident about how things go for me.

Today I was here at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Camperdown in Sydney, for my pre-4th surgery consultation with my lovely Professor. This is the view down to the ground floor from Level 2 as we were waiting. We heard the piano being played beautifully later & I got to meet the lovely art-making person & make a card. It is a most welcoming and caring place to be even though why most of us are there is not for a reason we choose.

Today I learned that I will need more surgery, the addition of a stent (mouth guard) as I had in February for only weeks …will be in my mouth for months this time. This is not a pleasant thought but without it, the gums and mouth area will not stay in place for my (future)implanted teeth. . My memories of this last time was that it is uncomfortable, gets stinky & will impede eating even more. And it hurt at times. I will need more visits to Westmead in the weeks following the surgery for the prosthodontist to take the stent off & clean around it & put it back.

Additionally I learned that my lip will need more skin. My right leg will be the source of a second skin graft from the thigh. This experience last time meant a bandage on for 2 weeks, no showering and after that time, to have a bath and over time the bandage and the healing patch will come off.

To say that I am a bit disappointed is true but…… surgeries such as mine are new, they require skills and knowledge gained each time a patient is presented. So, wondering how to manage my thoughts and feeling about this, I decided that writing it helps; as does showing appreciation for all that has been done for me so far and helped me recover from the nasty news last year that I had Squamous Cell Carcinoma in my upper gums.

The day I have my 4th surgery at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse will be Wed 16 May 2018 (day surgery)

That is one day short of the first anniversary of my cancer diagnosis on Wed 17 May 2017.

Read about that here if you are new to the blog

I was on Level 2 (where I stood today)  the very next day, 18 May 2017 to meet both the Professor and Associate Professor who would be doing my major surgery in July 2017.

That it is almost one year is both scary and amazing.

Thank you friends here and on FB for your support, kindness, messages and love.

This is what I know I will be looking like again. I guess it helps me to understand more. I am disappointed but I also trust my professional team implicitly and know what they learn each time they do this kind of complex reconstructive surgery is likely to help others.

I am dealing with this positively and with courage. I am going to wear this more, I think!

I will be spending more time batch cooking as I know I have to eat as well as I can but I also know the restrictions.

Thanks for reading thus far! I know this cancer story of mine is quite dominant at the moment which I believe is linked to The One Year Since Diagnosis coming up.

Do you remember certain days/times of year for different reasons?

I sure do.

I have always been like this.

I know there have been quite a few posts about this cancer and surgery but I am grateful to be able to blog about it and hope that you can have patience with me as I continue to get towards my goal of…..implanted teeth!

Thanks to all who read and comment. I am buoyed every time as I said in that Instagram post last week.

Denyse.

On Tuesday this posts links with Kylie here

On Wednesday this post links with Sue and Leanne here

On Thursday this post links with Leanne here.

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Courage, Exposure Challenges & Me. Part One. 2017.110.

Courage, Exposure Challenges & Me. Part One. 2017.110.

Background.

I have mentioned a while back here on the blog that for quite some time, IBS, fear of having to find a loo quickly, anxiety about travelling on the M1 to Sydney were all contributing to a heightened sense of anxiety and worry. So much so, that I found it stressful to have family here to visit and resisted entertaining people. This was further exacerbated very early in 2017 when some very hot days in NSW, seeing a HUGE line of cars which could not move on the M1 because of a major accident and my mind immediately imaging what it be like for me to even contemplate such a happening that I literally and figuratively FROZE with fear. My planned visit to my father’s in Sydney for his birthday in early January was cancelled. By me. Crying, sad and fearful me. I felt so guilty but I also felt incredibly relieved. Interesting!

What is exposure therapy, or as I like to call it ‘personal challenges’?

Here is some information:

Exposure therapy is often essential if you are to overcome your anxiety disorder. The cognitive behavioural treatment of  conditions such as: panic with agoraphobia, simple phobias, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress usually entails an exposure component.That is, you must subject yourself to the situations you are worried about in order to beat anxiety.
Although this sounds frightening, your therapist will give you the tools to cope with confronting your fears (e.g. rational thinking, slow breathing and isometric relaxation).

The guidelines for exposure therapy are that the sessions must be
* graded
* repeated and regular
* prolonged

Graded:
 Your therapist will work with you to determine what would be an appropriate first step; it should be difficult enough to provoke some fear but easy enough for you to be fairly confident you can do it. Once you can cope with Step 1 confidently, then you can move onto a more difficult situation and gradually work up your most feared scenarios.

Source: http://www.anxietyaustralia.com.au/exposure-therapy/

Shortly after my decision not to drive to see Dad, I summoned up enough courage to keep my next Psychologist appointment after I had been to my lovely GP to tell her what had happened. Rationally I knew what I was doing and feeling was not helping me but I could not escape from the rope fear and anxiety had wound around me. I also was NOT diagnosed with an anxiety disorder nor was I depressed but my behaviours and resistance to trying the challenge myself were making me (and I guess those who loved me) a bit frustrated but kindly not showing it much! I resisted even though I would tell my professionals I would give the exposure ideas a go in a graded sense it never seemed to me anyway, to be enough.

Some of the ways I was ‘convincing myself’ that things were going well. Deep down, I knew they needed to be better and only I could change that.

My Personal Challenges Getting Me Started. 

Recently I have been listening to Brene Brown on her Rising Strong – A Spiritual Practice CD and she talks of the stories we tell ourselves because our brain wants us to be rewarded with a shot of dopamine when we work out the story to fit the situation. It does not, however, mean that having that story makes you better or right. It IS just a story. I know I was telling myself many stories back in January to March. I know that they were wrong too but I could not even see myself being able to move further along the exposure challenge way. Until I HAD to.

Early April 2017. The BIG challenge after a few smaller but important ones.

It is no secret to readers here and Facebook followers and friends and family that my teeth, notably my upper jaw and gums had been giving me hell for about 8 months to this point. After some nervous but successfully personal challenges – driving on M1 to the Dentist, discussing what treatment I would need and back and forth, I faced 6th April. The day my hub would drive me to the dentist for a 1.5 hour extraction of both the bridge holding my 5 front teeth and the teeth themselves. I cannot lie that I was not scared. Not about the procedure actually but about whether my stress levels about IBS and worry of IBS would escalate. On the advice of our new then GP, I had valium and meds to counter any fears of IBS and with my hub taking me and staying in the same room with me, and listening to a CD of relaxation, I came through the biggest challenge I had to date.

How That One Event Helped Me Go to Sydney.

I drove home, alongside my caring husband, congratulating myself for having the courage to go beyond my fears and as it is said, do it anyway. I recuperated with relative ease and drove back by myself to the dentist after a week in a more relaxed and calm manner. It felt so good!  Then the so-called bigger challenge (exposure therapy-wise) was for me to drive to Sydney to see Dad. I do have to explain that it was because of ME I had to do this, not because of any pressure from him. He just wanted me to feel well and be less anxious. I did that drive, caught up with him, took him some meals and felt very pleased to have met the challenge!

So, there I went. Going well…but there was more, waiting around the corner…as regular readers know but I will continue next week!

Part Two Comes Next Week. 

Have you had anxiety or fears about doing some things in your life?

Have you overcome them?

Tell us about this.

Thank you for sharing!

I believe it IS important to share.

Denyse.

 

Joining with two blogging friends’ link-ups: Kylie here who hosts I Blog On Tuesdays and Leanne here who hosts Lovin’ Life each Thursday.

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15 Years Ago & Now. 2017.104.

15 Years Ago & Now. 2017.104.

Fifteen Years Ago.

As I have written before, and is part of my bio, I was a K-6 School Principal in a N.S.W. Public School from 1999-2003. Before then I had been a relieving principal in two schools from 1994-1998. In 1999 I was appointed, by merit selection, to this school. The brief, once I was appointed, from my boss, the District Superintendent was “Denyse, I want you to bring this school into the 21st Century.” He was correct in that. It certainly was stuck back in probably an era two decades earlier. When I began in January 1999, replacing the former principal who died in the September school holidays earlier, I literally had to start the school’s organisation and planning from scratch. Why? Because the person I replaced trusted no-one and kept all leadership matters to himself,  and died with all the school passwords and information for getting things up and running. I took over a mess.

But I love a challenge and there were some good people who wanted to come along on this journey into the century we were on the cusp of entering. The school executive team was keen and wanted to learn more and  I could definitely help them with this and we formed a good group. Until the end of that first year. It really was a change that I could not stop and is part of what happens in school systems anyway but it made my job more challenging for sure. The school was unique in the area at that time with: mainstream classes, a special education unit of 3 classes, 2 O.C. (gifted and talented) classes and an Autism Satellite Class. Two of the people who were part of the executive team sought and got promotions elsewhere. Yes. I would encourage that of course. However, it left a hole for a bit which I was able to carry myself until I could get some new staff appointed.

Over the next 2 years however, this plan started to waiver. I had appointed a person to an executive role who was not up to the role. I take responsibility for that but it was a most unpleasant time as his continued absence from school due to ‘illness’ meant I had parents (and some teachers) calling for action. In the end, my district superintendent moved this person on and I could fill the role internally. I was relieved for a little while but then my best and most competent person in my team had to leave to have her first child. This was lovely for her and her husband and I wished her well. The remaining executive member who was my age decided to take Long Service Leave for the remainder of the year.

This meant I had NO fully qualified person holding an executive role in my very busy and varied school community.  But what did I do? I appointed people who were staff members who said they would like to learn more about the role and support the school  by taking on relieving roles for the remainder of 2002. This worked in some ways but I needed to take on more of their responsibilities myself or guide them step by step. It was as if I was doing multiple roles. I could sense how much I had taken on in June that year when I ended up writing a casual teacher’s class reports!

 

I did not know what this was doing to my mental health although I probably should have read the signs. I sought time out from the school to attend meetings and to meet with colleagues but at NO TIME did I actually tell my boss what it was like for me. In fact, I had said farewell to the District Superintendent who’d appointed me at his retirement and he was replaced by someone in an acting position. And, it still is the same now, a principal is meant to handle anything and everything that comes up. Well. Maybe in 2017 there might be greater awareness of principals’ mental health but not when I was becoming unwell. Even though I did not know it. I can look back now and see I was quick to anger and showed my displeasure when people did not comply because of their own incompetencies or my ‘view’ of how they should behave in the role. This led to….the following:

On a September evening in 2002 I received a telephone call at home from one of my relieving executive staff. She told me that there would be a delegation of staff coming to me the next day to make a complaint about my manner and behaviour. She said they had contacted our union and that person would be at the school. She also said that there was a rumour it was because of me that the school population was declining and that as that would mean at least one staff member would have to be transferred then I needed to step up. I could and did dispute this as the reason as schools’ populations change for a variety of reasons but instead I reacted personally.

This sure was a bolt out of the blue. But then again, I actually could see how my behaviour had changed and recognised that I was fast losing my grip on being a leader. Within moments of the conversation ending, and letting my husband know what had occurred I broke down. In tears and physical distress I knew I had to protect my health/self and I could NOT face such a meeting. I could not reach my boss and had to wait till the next day. I did not sleep and went to my G.P. as soon as I could that morning. It was very unlike me not to continue to be at work.

That day, 4th September 2002, she declared that I was suffering from anxiety and depression  due to work overload and that she would start the process of a work cover application.

I never went back to that school, that role or saw anyone other than my boss and the local district HR staff again. It was final and I NEVER  could have seen me, a competent and dedicated teacher, finishing my career JUST.LIKE.THAT.

Now.

So much time has passed and yet this time of 15 years ago remains very clear. It is imprinted upon my mind as ‘the time when I failed to do the job I was appointed for‘. Then again  as was  the culture of the time it meant I could not share how I was managing with anyone. Mental health management  in the workplace is hopefully becoming more recognised but there is still a huge stigma attached and shame as well. My shame is decreasing each time I tell my story. It did take courage for me to start to tell my story a few years ago because I did not want to admit my so-called ‘failings‘ as a school principal. I am the one who labelled these, no-0ne else.

The upshot of what happened to me impacts me still in some ways. I did have the claim for workcover met and was paid accordingly. However, as in all workcover matters many steps need to be followed as the recipient and these include ‘return to work’ plans. I simply could not do that. My GP was adamant that I NEVER return to that school nor to the role of principal. Interestingly when I was first on leave I could not even attend my grandchild’s school without a great deal of fear and anxiety.

I was treated by more than my GP. I had to attend meetings with my employer and work cover and to see a psychiatrist and psychologist but what they all wanted me to do I could not. I could not even drive on the road that would lead me to my old school. I was scared!

If I knew what I know now about myself I think I may have been prepared to expose myself to the experience of coming to work at the local district office instead of refusing (avoiding) because I felt such fear and shame. I also think with the knowledge I have now about my mental toughness and resilience that I could have stayed employed.

But no, as I found in early 2003, I HAD to resign my role and give up any rights so that I could, hopefully gain my superannuation lump sum. I was in a scheme which did not medically retire (sadly I had taken myself out of that scheme when we were first married) so the action was to leave under circumstances that were never envisaged by me. Then came an even tougher time when the Superannuation people interrogated me and tested me and declared I was fit and able to return to work. This was disputed by my medical team and it took the lawyers from my union (free for me) to gain my benefit.

For all of 2003 I took time out to explore my creative side, I volunteered at the Smith Family and I met with friends for coffee. I had many appointments to continue my self-styled rehabilitation after I declined to take part in any more of the WorkCover requirements. In early 2004 I needed more. I needed to be with people again and to teach!

There was much more that was good to happen to me from May 2004 onwards which I did for myself by returning to a teaching role in friend’s school and having no executive responsibilities. I was happily engaged in that work from 2004-2009 and had to be careful to not take on too much as I was only to work part-time. But I got my sense of being a teacher again.

So why tell this story?

The stories relating to stress, work overload and anxiety in the workplace need to be shared widely. I now know my personality  type and management style is that I need to be sure of things and want things to be done well and correctly. This was not happening in 2002 but I also held onto the notion that a principal deals with everything without telling the boss how it actually is. I have wondered how it may have worked if I had had the courage to tell someone. I did not even tell my husband.  I became unwell mentally and emotionally because I did not reach out to others and when I was finally diagnosed I was not to return to the workplace. I wonder now, if maybe things could have worked out better for me if I had the resilience I have today.

But we shall never know. I hope that by telling this story I could encourage others to speak up and share if the workload is too much. Tell someone. I know I should have.

Does anything here ring true for you or someone you know?

Denyse.

Joining in with Kylie Purtell here for I Blog On Tuesdays and with Leanne here for her Lovin’ Life Linky on Thursdays.

 

 

 

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